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Jeff Bewkes has been promoted to the number two slot at Time Warner, the world’s largest media company, further sealing his status as the likely heir to chief executive Dick Parsons.
The move follows the decision by Don Logan, who shared the chief operating officer position with Mr Bewkes, to retire this year.
“Only the timing should be a surprise,” said Mr Parsons in an interview. “We are on a continuum, there is no change of course.”
The management shift comes as Carl Icahn, the activist shareholder who controls 3 per cent of the group, together with Lazard, an investment bank, plan a proxy fight to take control of the board and push through a possible break-up of the group in an effort to raise its share price.
Mr Parsons has argued against breaking up Time Warner, an option he, Mr Bewkes and Mr Logan considered after taking over in 2002 following the ill-fated merger between AOL and Time Warner.
Mr Logan, 61, responsible for Time Warner’s AOL internet business, its cable division and the Time Inc publishing group, had been expected to retire at some stage, with Mr Bewkes, 56, in line to take over his responsibilities.“In 2002, we stripped the paint down, looked at the entire company and came up with a view that we liked our position in most of the businesses we were in, with the exception of AOL and music,” Mr Parsons said. “We have fixed AOL and sold [Warner Music]. We have revisited those conclusions many times and every time have confirmed our belief that our original position was correct.”
Mr Logan decided to step down following a deal between Google and AOL approved by Time Warner’s board last Thursday.
AOL switched its strategy from a subscription business to a free portal aimed at maximising audience to capture a larger share of the fast-growing internet advertising market. The deal with Google was aimed at accelerating this transition. Mr Parsons said Mr Logan had “done what he set out to do: get AOL stabilised”.
Mr Bewkes built his reputation as chief executive of Time Warner’s HBO television network. It has been one of the most-watched cable networks with hits such as The Sopranos and Sex in the City.
All five Time Warner divisions will report to him.