12 to Watch: Jeffrey Bewkes
As he takes the helm as CEO of Time Warner, Jeffrey Bewkes is playing things close to the vest.
The conglomerate’s stock was stagnant under his predecessor, Richard Parsons, who had to clean up after the disastrous merger with America Online. The disappointing performance on Wall Street has led to no shortage of suggestions for moves that can be made to boost Time Warner’s share price, including spinning off or selling AOL, Time Warner Cable or both.
But Mr. Bewkes’ method may turn out to be to act first and then explain his strategy after, rather than provide the road map for where he plans to take the company.
“Time Warner companies have been pioneers in every media age, from the invention of talking pictures at Warner Bros. and Time’s weekly magazine to online services from AOL to video-on-demand from HBO and Time Warner Cable,” Mr. Bewkes said in a statement. “Today we find ourselves in an environment like nothing we’ve seen before—all media companies, including us, need to move boldly. We’ll be looking at every opportunity to grow our businesses. This will include capitalizing on digital capabilities to make and distribute all our journalism and entertainment to diverse audiences inside the U.S. and on a global basis.”
Mr. Bewkes joined Time Warner in 1991. Before becoming president and chief operating officer in 2006, he was chairman of Time Warner’s entertainment and networks group. He got that job after helping to make HBO into a company that mints money.
Investment analysts see the changing of the guard as a good thing for Time Warner.
“We consider Mr. Parsons’ (largely expected) resignation a positive for the stock because his successor Jeff Bewkes will likely be more aggressive at restructuring the company,” said Thomas W. Eagan, senior VP for research at Oppenheimer & Co., when the succession was announced. “We expect Mr. Bewkes will be less sentimental about selling or spinning off divisions, such as publishing, or reducing the current 84.5% stake in cable systems.”
Mr. Eagan noted that any change in cable ownership would come after March, the five-year anniversary of the creation of the Time Warner Entertainment partnership. A restructuring after that date would incur lower taxes.
Even Mr. Parsons, frequently described as diplomatic in manner, noted differences between him and his former deputy during a recent interview on CNN.
“I’m a defensive guy. It’s hard to get the ball from me if I have it,” Mr. Parsons said. “But Jeff is an offensive guy and he’s going to find a way to take the company in new directions.”
AT A GLANCE
Name: Jeffrey Bewkes
Title: President-CEO, Time Warner
How long in current position: Since Jan. 1
Year of birth: 1952
Place of birth: Patterson, N.J.
What to watch for: Taking the reins of the world’s largest media company, many observers expect him to boost Time Warner’s stock price by breaking it up.
Who knew: After graduating from Yale, he worked as a researcher at NBC News before enrolling at the Stanford Business School.