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News > CEOs
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Parsons: the man
graphic December 5, 2001: 5:57 p.m. ET

Public service as much as private sector success define AOL Time Warner's new CEO
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  • AOL's Levin to retire - Dec. 5, 2001
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    NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Like Gerald Levin, newly appointed AOL Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons is not your typical media executive. In fact, Business Week coined him the "anti-mogul."

    Often described as easy-going, unassuming and generally well-liked, the 53-year-old Parsons came to his cat-bird seat atop the media world by way of high-level posts in government, law and banking.

    Long Levin's right-hand man, Parsons is a lawyer by training. He began his career as assistant counsel to New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1971 and later served as a senior White House aide when Rockefeller became vice president under Gerald Ford.

    From there, Parsons moved into the private sector, first becoming a managing partner at the New York law firm Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler, and then taking on the posts of chairman and CEO at Dime Bancorp, which he is credited with helping to rescue during the savings and loan crisis.

    Parsons joined Time Warner as president in 1995, but he wasn't a newcomer to the company. He had served on its board since 1991. In his current role as AOL Time Warner's co-chief operating officer - a title he shares with Robert Pittman -- Parsons oversees Warner Bros., New Line Cinema, Warner Music Group and Time Warner Trade Publishing, as well as the legal department and human resources.

    Parsons is due to become CEO after Levin departs next May.

    Throughout his career, Parsons has balanced a life of public service with a life in the private sector. In addition to his role at AOL Time Warner, Parsons is co-chair of President Bush's bipartisan Social Security Commission, and he chairs the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corp., which was set up to spur business development and job creation in Harlem. He also sits on the boards of several companies, including Citigroup; arts organizations, including Lincoln Center; and Howard University.

    Politically, Parsons has described himself in the press as a Rockefeller Republican: fiscally conservative and socially liberal.

    One of the country's top African-American businessmen, Parsons has said often that he never considered his race a handicap or a focus for him. He once told the New York Times, "For a lot of people race is a defining issue. It just isn't for me. It is ... like air. It's like height. I have other things that I'm focused on."

    Nevertheless, his success and his contributions to the public sector have given him a leadership role among African-Americans in the business world. Currently, there are only two other African-American CEOs of Fortune 500 companies: Kenneth Chenault at American Express and Franklin D. Raines at Fannie Mae.

    Parsons' appointment Wednesday "increases the opportunity for talented African-American executives to be considered for the top-rung of corporate America," said Carl Brooks, president of the Executive Leadership Council, a nonprofit organization for African-American senior executives. Parsons has been a consultant to the organization since its inception in 1986.

    Among the qualities that makes Parsons as successful as he is, said Brooks, are "his focus, his ability to analyze the facts and get to the bottom line, and his ability to motivate an organization."

    A native of Brooklyn and Queens, Parsons is married to Laura Bush. The couple has three children.


    For more on AOL Time Warner's executive changes, click here. And for a look at the challenges Parsons faces as he takes the helm of the world's largest media company, click here.


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