I was an analyst (yes, on the dark side) following the large cable and media companies when Dick Parsons took the helm of what was then AOL Time Warner in 2002. The company, which is now known again as just Time Warner
As I've told Fools in the past, I well recall mingling with hundreds of analysts and institutional investors who were huddled together in a New York hotel in 2001 as the virtues of this new combination were extolled by AOL Chairman Steve Case and his minions and by then-Time Warner CEO Jerry Levin and his own charges. The mantra was that this was to be a wonderful and "synergistic" coming together of new media and old media, and that it would benefit both mightily. And it probably did -- for a matter of months.
But then things began to crumble. The management team of the new company, which had largely been composed of AOL types (most of whom were not oozing humility), began to fall away as their unit started to falter. At precisely the same time, the inherent strength of many of the Time Warner old-media units seemingly rose from the ashes. It didn't take long before the Time Warner crew had retrieved the top positions throughout the company.
What does all of this tell Fools about Parsons' performance and about the future of Time Warner? To be honest, Parsons' takeoff at the company took longer than I would have liked. But then, he'd inherited a chaotic situation, including almost certain turf wars between the managers of the two recently combined companies, along with the difficulties created by the figurative air rushing out of the AOL balloon.
Over the past few years, however, Parsons' handiwork has become more and more apparent, and while nobody, not even former GE
During the past several months, its Time Warner Cable operation -- which is second in the industry in subscribers, trailing only Comcast
That's not to say that there are no remaining challenges for Parsons. He must get on with the naming of his successor -- almost certainly Jeff Bewkes, the company's president and chief operating officer -- and he'll have to ante up $405 million to settle claims by shareholders related to past accounting problems at AOL. But the Time Warner of today feels so very much more solid than it did five years ago. I'd urge Fools with big media on their mind to resolutely keep it in their sights.
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