Startling Wall Street and the industry, AOL Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin
declared that he is exiting the company and will be replaced not by Bob Pittman
but by Levin deputy Richard Parsons.
Parsons will be the most powerful black executive in media and joins American
Express's Kenneth Chenault and Merrill Lynch's Stanley O'Neal as one of few
top-ranking black executives at a major corporation.
Industry executives had widely expected Pittman to succeed Levin.
Parsons and Pittman had shared the title of co-COO since AOL completed its
takeover of Time Warner in January, a situation that everyone who has watched
corporate merger politics knew would not last for long.
Even though Pittman had been president of AOL before the merger, the
company's board tapped Parsons for the CEO slot. AOL Chairman Steve Case remains
in the top slot.
'This is the appropriate time for such a change,' Levin said in a memo to
'When I returned to work after the death of my son, Jon, in 1997, I had a
special provision inserted in my employment agreement that allows me to choose
not to fill out my term.'
Levin's son, a teacher, was murdered in New York City by a former
Levin will retire next May, a move that ensures months of tributes that will
crescendo at the company's annual meeting that month.
Pittman is seen as a strong operations executive who forced AOL to focus more
heavily on revenues and profits than on merely launching new products.
But Parsons, former CEO of savings and loan Dime Bancorp, is known best for
building a consensus internally and was called upon as a diplomat in Time
Warner's tough disputes.