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Profile: Kathy Bushkin

Apr 30, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Seconds after the AOL Time Warner merger was consummated in January, the company debuted a new Web site (www.aoltime
warner.com) that prominently touted its new AOL Time Warner Foundation. It signaled that the media monolith considers social responsibility and philanthropy as important as the bottom line.
Even in tough economic times, the new foundation is investing an estimated $10 million in cash and in-kind resources this year-and three times that in divisionwide efforts. The operating foundation, which is more prone to partnerships than to outright grants, is focused on four primary areas: equipping youth for the future, extending Internet benefits to all, engaging communities in the arts and empowering citizens.
Kathy Bushkin, formerly senior vice president and chief communications officer at America Online who oversaw the AOL Foundation, now presides over the new foundation. The best part of her new job, she said, is tapping AOL Time Warner’s far-reaching media and information resources to serve the public interest and society.
EM: What personal vision did AOL Chairman Steve Case and Time Warner Chairman Gerald Levin bring to creating the foundation?
Ms. Bushkin: Jerry and Steve both said that when they first met and talked about bringing together their companies, their longest and most intense discussions were not about EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization] or how the businesses can create new shareholder value. It was about their shared social goals. They were CEOs who thought about such things more than just tangentially.
EM: How do you operate the foundation?
Ms. Bushkin: We want to do more than give grants. We want to partner with organizations and share the lessons about what makes a good company and a catalyst for change. One of the most important things we will do if we are successful is we will identify the work being done by all of our divisions in areas like youth, literacy and Black History Month.
Our company can make a difference through its products, services and enormous resources. So when Time magazine put “AIDS in Africa” as a cover story in February, AOL coordinated a Web site where people could make donations or invest in kits to help out. CNN did a story on it, and we were able to bring pieces of the company together.
EM: Do you have an overriding mission statement?
Ms. Bushkin: Our mission statement [comprises] seven values that include creativity, diversity, integrity and responsibility. They guide a broad range of activities, from ways our employees can give back to making movies that can inspire to enriching the lives of students and citizens using the Internet to publishing something like Time for Kids.
EM: Your foundation board comprises only AOL Time Warner executives …
Ms. Bushkin: It was deliberately done without outsiders because we thought as a brand-new creation we would treat it like a division, but we’ll use outside advisers and eventually create an external board.
EM: How much of a commitment is the company willing to make annually to support foundation activities, even in difficult economic times?
Ms. Bushkin: We’re not endowed, but I think there is really strong commitment to a budget to achieve its missions. Everybody is under pressure. We’re all being extremely careful. There are a lot of ways to be a smart corporate partner these days in philanthropy and social responsibility without just making grants. There is an opportunity for companies to cooperate where they would otherwise compete.
EM: How did you come by this new position?
Ms. Bushkin: This was always a favorite piece of my prior job at AOL. It was a combination [of] how the company could meet its obligations as a corporate leader as well as community engagement and philanthropy.