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Parsons, Richard

Parsons, Richard

April 4, 1948 Brooklyn, New York

Chairman and CEO, Time Warner

Business executive Richard Parsons has been called a teddy bear, a master diplomat, and a charmer, but perhaps the best description that has been applied to him is "friendly giant." Standing at 6 feet 4 inches, with broad shoulders, he is a physically impressive man who could fill any boardroom. But, in this case, Parsons sits at the helm of one of the largest media companies in the world, Time Warner. When Parsons was named chief executive officer (CEO) in 2002 and chairman in 2003, he became one of the most powerful executives in the United States, but he also inherited a mountain of problems. A 2001 merger between Internet icon America Online (AOL) and Time Warner, a leader in the entertainment industry, had proven to be a failed experiment. As a result, the company struggled to maintain its credibility, its stock prices tumbled, and it faced $27 billion in debt. By the mid-2000s, however, analysts reported that Time Warner was on a definite upswing: employee morale was high, investors were newly confident, and the monstrous debt had been significantly slashed. And most agreed that friendly giant Richard Parsons had been just what the fractured titan needed.

The Rockefeller Republican

Although Richard Dean Parsons regularly makes Fortune magazine's annual list of the most powerful people in business, and he is considered to be one of the most respected African American executives in the country, he came from an average working-class background. He was born on April 4, 1948, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York, and was raised in the New York borough of Queens. Parsons, however, was an extremely bright young man, who went on to graduate from high school when he was just sixteen years old. After graduation, he attended college at the University of Hawaii, where he excelled both academically and socially; Parsons was a varsity basketball player and the social chairman of his fraternity. While in Hawaii, he also met his future wife, Laura Bush.

Parsons had no clear idea what direction to take after college, but at the prompting of Laura, he decided to go to law school. According to Bush, it was the most logical decision since Parsons enjoyed arguing so much. Apparently it was the right decision. Parsons worked part-time as a janitor to pay his way through the University of Albany Law School in New York, and when he graduated in 1971, it was at the top of his class. That same year, he scored the highest marks out of the nearly four thousand lawyers who took the New York State bar examination.

"I always knew I'd rise to the top; it never occurred to me that I couldn't."

Just twenty-three years old, and fresh out of law school, Parsons landed a job as an aide on the legal staff of Nelson Rockefeller (19081979), the governor of New York. He became such a trusted adviser that in 1974, when Rockefeller headed to Washington to serve as vice president, Parsons was invited along. In Washington, the young lawyer also worked directly with President Gerald Ford (1913), first as general counsel and then as an associate director of the domestic council. Thanks in part to such associations Parsons became what he frequently describes as a Rockefeller Republican, a person who is conservative when it comes to economic matters, and more liberal concerning social issues. For example, during his Washington years, the social-minded Parsons was chairman of the Wildcat Service Corporation, an organization that provides job training for people who have difficulty finding work because of past criminal records, addictions, or poverty.

Lawyer turned banker

Parsons's tenure with Rockefeller and Ford opened up many doors for him and brought him to nationwide attention as an up-and-coming young executive. So, in 1976, when President Ford lost his re-election bid to Jimmy Carter (1924), Parsons did not lack for opportunities. In 1977, he returned to New York, and at the request of former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Harold R. Tyler Jr., he joined the law firm of Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler. He quickly became a star in the firm and in just two years was named partner. In his eleven years with Patterson, Parsons cemented his reputation as a skilled negotiator. He also expanded his web of connections, taking on such high-profile clients as Happy Rockefeller (1926), the widow of Nelson Rockefeller, and cosmetics giant Estée Lauder. In addition, Parsons provided legal counsel to several major U.S. corporations, including the Dimes Savings Bank of New York, the largest savings and loan institution in the state.

In 1988, just when it seemed that Parsons was poised to become head of his law firm, the news was announced that he had accepted the position of chief operating officer (COO) of the Dime. In doing so, he became the first African American to head a lending institution of such proportion. Many, however, questioned the appointment since Parsons had no real experience in the banking industry. Skeptics also wondered how Parsons would fare in his new job considering the bank was facing financial ruin. As a result of the savings and loan crisis of the mid-1980s, the Dime had lost some $92.3 million; it was also under scrutiny from federal regulators.

Parsons lost no time in putting his years of Washington deal-making into action. He also set out to streamline the bank's operations. As part of his management restructure, Parsons opted to lay off almost one-third of the Dime's staff. It was a drastic move, but he also kept communications open with his employees every step of the way. As a result, Parsons became known as the consummate gentleman executive. "He is a persuader, not a dictator," a former colleague told CNET News.com. "He intellectualizes outcomes and gets people to agree with his outcomes." His tactics paid off, and in just a few years, Parsons had reduced the amount of the Dime's bad debts from $1 billion to $335 million.

After taking on the job of chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of the Dime in 1990, Parsons continued to set the bank on its comeback course. In fact, in 1995 he was key in orchestrating the successful merger between the Dime and Anchor Savings Bank. As a result, Dime Bancorp became the largest thrift institution on the East Coast and the fourth largest in the United States. With the bank on solid ground, Parsons set his sights on a new enterprise.

Banker becomes media mogul

In 1994, Gerald Levin (1939), chairman of Time Warner (TW), openly recruited Parsons to take over as president of the company. Again, the business community was rocked by the news. True, Parsons had proven to be flexible enough to succeed in the banking world, but he had absolutely no background in media and entertainment. Many doubted that he could succeed at Time Warner, which was considered to be a media giant, controlling virtually all aspects of the industry, including television (CNN, HBO, Turner Classic Movies, WB Network); film (Warner Brothers, New Line Cinema); publishing (magazines such as Time, People, and Sports Illustrated ); and music (Warner Music Group). Levin, however, felt that Parsons was the right man for the job, and some business insiders were not that surprised. After all, Parsons had sat on the company's board of directors for several years, and had developed close ties with top TW executives.

Parsons assumed his post as president of Time Warner in January of 1995, a job that came with a reported multi-million dollar salary. For the next six years, he served as the number-two executive at the company, and as Gerald Levin's right-hand man. Although Levin was effectively in charge, it was Parsons who consistently took on the tough assignments and it was Parsons who employees turned to for guidance. "Whenever we had a problem with one of the units, Parsons was always the guy who would solve it," former co-chairman of Warner Brothers Robert Daly explained to Business Week. "And he would do it in a way that everyone would feel good about the outcome." In addition, any time that trouble reared its head over regulatory issues in Washington, Parsons came to the rescue by turning to one of his many political contacts.

Time Warner faced its biggest challenge in 2000 when it announced plans to merge with America Online (AOL), which by the late 1990s had evolved into the nation's leading Internet provider. Levin had been in negotiations with Steve Case (1958), AOL's CEO, for several years. The hope was that by combining forces they would make the most successful merger in history: AOL would have access to Time Warner's massive media content and it would be able to reach even more users thanks to TW's cable television operations. In turn, Time Warner would have unlimited access to the ever-expanding Internet pipeline. The merger was made official in 2001, when AOL purchased Time Warner for a reported $168 billion. It did make history as the largest corporate purchase ever, but it also became known as perhaps the most failed megamerger on record.

After the deal was made, AOL Time Warner's board responsibilities were split directly in half, with one exception: Levin became the sole CEO in charge of operations; Case retained a backseat role as chairman. Parsons took on the role of co-COO, sharing the job with Robert Pittman (1953), former president of AOL. To many, it seemed that Pittman took on most of the plum assignments in the company, considering he was in charge of the high-profile AOL operations. But it was Parsons who oversaw the units that brought in the most revenue, including Warner Brothers, New Line Cinema, and Time Warner Trade Publishing. He was also in charge of the legal department and human resources. Still, when Levin announced, in late 2001, that he would be leaving AOL Time Warner, the assumption was that Pittman would be his likely successor.

AOL Time Warner struggles

In a December 2001 press conference, Levin stunned the industry when he named Parsons as AOL Time Warner's next CEO. As reported in Jet magazine, Levin commented, "I have the greatest confidence in Dick Parsons' ability to lead the company forward, coalesce its diverse interests, and work with our strategic partners to achieve our ambitious goals." Once again, Parsons made history, becoming what Adam Cohen of Time called the "first African American to lead the world's most influential media company." The world's most influential media company, however, was struggling. AOL Time Warner's various operating units were still far from achieving a full integration. In addition, thanks to an industry-wide technology slump, AOL, which had promised big revenues, had failed to deliver. Just before Parsons officially took over from Levin in May of 2002, the company posted a quarterly loss of $54 billion, the largest in U.S. history.

Parsons remained optimistic, but he proceeded cautiously. As he told Cohen, "Ideally, you want to underpromise and overdeliver. To the extent that we've lost credibility, repairing it is important." Parsons's critics were not impressed by this middle-of-the-road philosophy, but his supporters pointed out that underlying the nice-guy image was a savvy businessman. As one AOL shareholder told Business Week, "Dick is the right guy to be running the company right now." In this case, Parsons was forced to tap into both sides of his personality. With a calm, cool-headed resolve, he doggedly tackled the problems that lay ahead.

When Robert Pittman stepped down as COO in June of 2002, Parsons quickly reorganized the company's top ranks by promoting some of Time Warner's former division chiefs. And, after taking over as chairman from Steve Case, who stepped down in January of 2003, Parsons went to work to repair the damage from the AOL merger. In mid-2003, he sold off parts of the company that were considered to be noncore assets, including the sports teams, the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Thrashers. In his biggest move to trim the $27 billion debt, Parsons sold Warner Music Group in November of 2003 for a reported $2.6 billion.

In spite of its debt, the company reported an overall increase in revenue (6 percent) in early 2004, thanks to three of the Time Warner divisions: film, cable, and network advertising. The biggest boost came from the film division, which had experienced an enormous success because of the Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings series. The drag on the company continued to be AOL, which consistently floundered. In September of 2003, Parsons made a surprising announcement: AOL Time Warner was undergoing a name change, and would in the future be known as simply Time Warner. "Renaming our company will strengthen the identity of the AOL brand name among consumers," the CEO said in a written statement reported on CNNMoney.com. "America Online is an important part of our company and we expect it to continue to make major contributions to our success in the future."

A giant of a role model

Analysts wondered about the future of AOL even as Parsons continued to play peacemaker, overseeing Monday morning meetings with his various managers and promising harmony between teams. "It's a collaboration," he told Anthony Bianco and Tom Lowry of Business Week. "Getting your team together is the more important thing." At the same time people speculated about what role Parsons would play in Time Warner's future. In the same Business Week interview, the CEO revealed, "I take this job seriously. It's important I do it well.... But it's not my life. I exist apart from this job."

Some predicted a future in politics for Parsons. In addition to his work for Rockefeller and the Ford administration, the lawyer-turned-banker-turned media executive served in various political roles throughout his career. When Rudolph Giuliani (1944) was elected mayor of New York in 1993, Parsons headed his transitional council; he served on the transition team when Michael Bloomberg (1942) became the mayor of New York in 2001; and that same year, he was named co-chair of President George W. Bush's Social Security Commission. Parsons also remained a committed leader in other areas of public and community service. He serves on the board of several cultural institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art and Lincoln Center. He also serves as chairman of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation, which was established to spur the development of business and the growth of job opportunities in Harlem.

Whether he remains with Time Warner or runs for public office, or goes in a totally different direction, Parsons will continue to be a role model in the African American community. He frequently downplays race as a factor or handicap in his success. As he once told the New York Times, as reported by CNNMoney.com, "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 I'm focused on." Regardless, Parsons is consistently applauded by various groups for the inspiration he provides to young people everywhere. In 2004, he was awarded the Better Chance Corporate Award, an annual honor bestowed by the organization A Better Chance, which, according to Hispanic PRWire, "identifies, recruits, and develops leaders among academically gifted students of color." According to Better Chance president Sandra Timmons, as quoted by Hispanic PRWire, "Richard Parsons serves as a role model for aspiring executives of all races, but his success has earned him a special leadership role among African Americans."

For More Information

Periodicals

Cohen, Adam. "Can a Nice Guy Run This Thing?" Time (December 17, 2001).

Hayden, Thomas. "The Man Who Keeps the Peace: AOL Time-Warner's Richard Parsons." Newsweek (January 24, 2000): p. 36.

McClellan, Steve. "AOL Time Warner Still Fixing Holes." Broadcasting & Cable (July 28, 2003): p. 8.

Mehta, Stephanie. "Richard Parsons: Profile." Fortune (August 8, 2004).

"Reeling Like a Bad Movie: AOL Time Warner." The Economicst (April 19, 2003).

"Richard D. Parsons Named New CEO of AOL Time Warner." Jet (December 24, 2001): p. 6.

Web Sites

Bianco, Anthony, and Tom Lowry. "Can Dick Parsons Rescue AOL Time Warner?" BusinessWeek Online (May 19, 2003) http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/03_20/b3833001_mz001.htm (accessed on July 29, 2004).

Hu, Jim. "Parsons Faces Major Test in Unifying AOL Time Warner." CNET News.com (April 3, 2002) http://news.com.com/2009-1023-873910.html (accessed on July 29, 2004).

Isidore, Chris. "Time Warner Drops AOL Name." CNNMoney.com. (September 18, 2003) http://money.cnn.com/2003/09/18/technology/aol_name (accessed on July 31, 2004).

"Parsons the Man: Public Service as Much as Private Sector Success Define AOL Time Warner's New CEO." CNNMoney.com (December 5, 2001) http://money.cnn.com/2001/12/05/ceos/parsons_profile (accessed on July 29, 2004).

"Time Warner's Chairman and CEO Richard D. Parsons Honored by a Better Chance." Hispanic PRWire (June 11, 2004) http://www.hispanicprwire.com/news_in.php?id=2478&cha=6&PHPSESSID (accessed on July 31, 2004).

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Parsons, Richard Dean 1948–

Richard Dean Parsons 1948

Corporate executive

Career Shaped by Rockefeller

Politics Differed From Most Blacks

Role of Race Downplayed

Sources

Richard Parsons has become one of the most prominent figures in American business, without rising through the usual ranks required to reach a high-level corporate position. Named president of Dime Savings Bank of New York in 1988 even though he had no previous experience in the banking industry, he masterminded a turnaround at the bank in just a few years. In the early 1990s he became president of Time Warner Inc., making him one of the most highly ranked African Americans in the corporate United States. In 1999, when AOL and Time Warner merged, parsons became the co-chief operating officer, a position shared with Bob Pittman. In 2001 Parsons was named the successor to AOL Time Warners CEO, Gerald Levin, who was retired in May of 2002.

Hard work has been a crucial component of the Parsons success story, a value he claims to have learned from his father. As he told Ebony, I have never missed a single day of work in my life. Never. Not one. Also fueling his rise were connections he has made with important people over the years. A gregarious and thoughtful man, Mr. Parsons has risen by winning the affection and loyalty of influential mentors, wrote Laurence Zuckerman in the New York Times.

Born into a family of humble means in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York, and raised in Queens, New York, Parsons revealed an inherent intelligence but had few aspirations as a youth. He graduated high school at the age of 16, then devoted much of his attention to sports as a student at the University of Hawaii. He played varsity basketball there, and was also the social chairman of his fraternity. His journey to future success was given some impetus by his girlfriend at the time, Laura Bush, who became his wife in 1968.

Left to my own devices, I dont feel any compulsion to strive, he told the New York Times in 1990. My wife became my focus and the person to whom I owed my best. His plans to become a fighter pilot were redirected to law school largely due to Bushs influence. According to Ebony, Parsons said that the woman I was dating [Bush] told me, You like to argue so much you ought to become a lawyer and get paid for it.

At Union University of the University of Albany Law School, Parsons helped pay his way through school by working part-time as a janitor and later as an aide in the State Assembly. He graduated number one in his class of more than 100 students at the age of 23, then received the highest marks among 3, 600 lawyers who took the state bar examination in 1971.

Career Shaped by Rockefeller

Beginning his legal career as an aide on New York governor Nelson Rockefellers legal staff, Parsons made a very favorable impression on the governor. Governor Rockefeller rewarded Parsonss solid performance by keeping him on his staff when he became vice president under President Gerald Ford in 1974. President Ford also used his services, first as a general

At a Glance

Born April 4, 1948, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Lorenzo Locklair and Isabelle Parsons; married Laura Ann Bush, August 30, 1968; children: Gregory, Leslie, Rebecca. Education: Graduated from University of Hawaii, 1968; Union University, University of Albany Law School, J.D., 1971.

Career: Served as assistant counsel to Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Albany, NY, 1971-74; called to the New York State Bar, 1972; appointed deputy counsel to the vice president, Washington, DC, 1975; general counsel and associate director of the White House Domestic Council, 1975-77; Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler (law firm), New York, NY, attorney, 1977-88, became partner, 1979; Dime Savings Bank of New York (became Dime Bancorp, 1995), chief operating officer, 1988-90, chairman and chief executive officer, 1990-95; named head of mayor-elect transition council, 1993; served as chairman of New York Citys Economic Development Corporation; Time Warner Inc., president, 1995-99; AOL Time Warner, co-chief operating officer, 1999-2002, AOL Time Warner, CEO, 2002-.

Memberships: Member of presidential Drug Task Force; chairman, Wildcat Service Organization. Member of the board of directors of Dime Savings Bank, Federal National Mortgage Association, Philip Morris Companies, Time Warner Inc., New York Zoological Society, and American Television & Communications Inc.; trustee of Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Howard University, and Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Addresses: Office AOL Time Warner, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.

council and then as associate director of the domestic council. In the latter post, Parsons focused on drug issues.

Rockefellers influence on Parsons remained strong and prompted him to become a Republican whose views were liberal on social issues and conservative on economic ones. It also brought Parsons to the attention of high-ranking people who later sought his services. As Parsons said in the New York Times in 1994, becoming a part of that Rockefeller entourage created for me a group of people whove looked out for me ever since. Parsons own concern for the underprivileged has been clearly shown by his work as chairman of the Wildcat Service Corporation, which has provided on-the-job instruction for people whose previous crimes, drug addiction, or poverty have made it difficult to find work.

By the mid-1970s Parsons was noted as a rising star among black professionals, and he was profiled in Black Enterprises Under 30 & Moving Up series in 1975. When departing Deputy Attorney General Harold R. Tyler, Jr., became a partner at a well-established New York City law firm in 1977, he asked Parsons to come on board. Parsons became a partner in just two years at Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler, a move that typically demanded seven years. In his 11 years with the firm, he made his mark in both corporate law and civil litigation. Among his clients were such high-profile figures as Happy Rockefeller and the cosmetics queen Estee Lauder.

Critical to the next chapter in the Parsons success story was his work with the Dimes Saving Bank of New York, which he provided with legal counsel for about six years while with Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler. Just when he seemed poised to become the first black to head a major law firm, shock waves rippled through the New York corporate world in 1988 when Parsons was appointed chief operating officer of the Dime by chairman and CEO Harry Albright, Jr. Before being offered the position, Parsons had never even considered entering the banking business. As he later told Black Enterprise, My wife talked me into it. She said I needed the change.

Parsonss appointment made him the first black to manage a lending company the size of Dime Savings Bank. Its a statement by and to corporate America that there are no more areas where African Americans havent succeeded, he told the New York Times in 1990. Some top officials at the bank questioned his appointment, both because of his lack of experience in the banking industry and his previous work in government that made him likely to leave the company for the political arena. Parsons answered these reservations by promising to devote his full attention to his new $525, 000-a-year post. Over the years Parsons has, however, admitted the possibility of entering politics later in life. Its a venue to which I could see myself returning at some point in time, he told the New York Times in 1994, referring to public service as the highest calling, large and important work.

Parsons began working at Dime during a difficult period. The bank had suffered a series of losses due to the drastic devaluation of New York City real estate in the late 1980s, and during the previous year it had lost $92.3 million. Parsons also had to deal with an onslaught of unhappy regulators. Under his tutelage the bank staged a remarkable comeback, largely through his massive overhauling of the banks management systems and work force. In just a few years he reduced the Dimes $1 billion in bad debts to $335 million.

During that time he also earned the respect of the staff for his fair treatment. Colleagues say Parsons management style helped smooth the painful layoffs that he had to make, wrote Fonda Marie Lloyd and Mark Lowery in Black Enterprise. They credit him with keeping employees informed every step of the way, at one point even producing several videos that were distributed to employees. When Albright departed the Dime, Parsons became chairman and CEO. With the bank now on solid financial ground, he engineered a merger with Anchor Savings Bank to create Dime Bancorp in early 1995. The merger created the fourth largest thrift institution in the nation and the largest on the East Coast, with assets worth $20 billion.

Politics Differed From Most Blacks

In 1993 Parsons was criticized by other blacks for supporting Rudolph Giuliani in the New York City mayoral race, instead of the incumbent Democrat, black mayor David Dinkins. This political stance was consistent with his rejection of the Democrats philosophy. According to an article in Black Enterprise, Parsons feels that the Democrats believe in taking from one group to give to another one, while the Rockefeller Republicans espouse a policy of equipping a group with skills so that they can achieve what they need on their own. You cant give something to somebody to have, said Parsons in the same article. Then, they dont value it. Value is associated with hard work.

After Giuliani was elected, he named Parsons to be head of his transition council. Peter J. Powers, New York Citys First Deputy Mayor at the time, complemented Parsonss leadership skills in the New York Times, noting that Parsons really knows how to bring people together and find common ground. Mayor Giuliani later asked Parsons to become his deputy mayor for Economic Development. Although Parsons refused that position, he consented to work as chairman of the citys Economic Development Corporation.

Admiration for Parsonss skills in the business world resulted in his being courted as a board member for a number of leading companies and institutions, including Time Warner Inc., Philip Morris, Tristar Pictures, Howard University, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His involvement with Time Warner resulted in his developing close ties with important company executives such as Robert W. Morgado, the chairman of the Warner Music Group, and Michael J. Fuchs, chairman of HBO. Parsons was asked to become the new president of Time Warner by its chairman, Gerald M. Levin, in the fall of 1994. In the Washington Post, Levin called Parsons an exceptional business leader with the broad experience, financial acumen and the knowledge of our business that will strengthen and solidify our corporate management.

Parsons accepted the presidency for a reported salary of several million dollars a year. The position placed him second in command over the entire Time Warner holdings in magazine and book publishing, music, film entertainment, theme parks, and cable television. Meanwhile, he answered complaints from colleagues at the Dime that he was deserting them. This opportunity with Time Warner is a once in a lifetime one. It was either you go for it, or its gone forever, claimed Parsons in Black Enterprise. Its not a bad time for me to make a move. I know the bank is in good hands.

The Parsons appointment was not without controversy at Time Warner. He was again entering an industry that was new to him, and some doubted his qualifications. Parsons also inherited a number of problems when he assumed his new post in January of 1995. Time Warners record division was experiencing difficulty, and company officials were suspicious about the designs of Edgar Bronfman of the Seagram Companies, which owned 15 percent of the companys stock. The conglomerate was also saddled with significant debt. Chief among his tasks since joining Time Warner have been the restructuring of the companys financial and administrative operations, as well as evaluating the responsibilities of artists regarding explicit displays of sex and violence.

Role of Race Downplayed

Some considered the Parsons appointment at Time Warner to be a significant achievement for black executives, one that helps pave the way for them to enter the highest positions in business. There are a number of other black executives who have elevated positions in corporate America, said Parsons in Black Enterprise. The process is rolling forward, even if it isnt moving as fast as some of us would like. Despite his distinction as a high-ranking black in business, Parsons downplays the racial aspects of his success. He has claimed that race was never a defining character in his life. I dont do anything differently than I would otherwise because I have that responsibility to my family, he told the New York Times in 1994. Whether I was an African-American, an Arab-American, a Je wish-American, or some other American, there are a lot of people who I cannot let down, so you have to live your life a certain way to be a role model to the people who are important to you.

After a year-long governmental review, Internet company America Online (AOL) and Time Warner merged in 2001. Parsons was named CEO for AOL Time Warner. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote, His designation as chief executive of the $36 billion media empire proves that African-Americans can not only perform in positions of commercial leadership but can wildly surpass all expectations. Known for his excellent mediation skills and his ability to put others at ease, Parsons told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he is a lunch pail manager who will display an in-the-trenches style of leadership. I like to be with the troops.

Sources

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 22, 2002, C3.

Black Enterprise, October 1994, pp. 68-70, 72, 76, 77; January 1995, p. 15.

Business Week, November 14, 1994, pp. 38, 39.

Ebony, June 1988, pp. 156, 158.

Emerge, February 1995, p. 69.

Financial Times, December 8, 2001, p. 13.

Los Angeles Times, January 13, 2001, p. C1; December 6, 2001, p. C1.

New York Times, May 8, 1990, p. D5; August 26, 1990, p. D5; July 7, 1994, p. D4; October 31, 1994, pp. Dl, D6.

Observer, (London, England) December 9, 2001, p. 4.

Wall Street Journal, May 8, 1990, p. B10; January 30, 1995, pp. B1, B3.

Washington Post, November 1, 1994, p. D5; December 6, 2001, p. EO1.

Ed Decker and Christine Miner Minderovic

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"Parsons, Richard Dean 1948–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved July 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/parsons-richard-dean-1948-0

Parsons, Richard Dean 1948—

Richard Dean Parsons 1948

Corporate executive

At a Glance

Career Shaped by Rockefeller

Politics Differed From Most Blacks

Role of Race Downplayed

Sources

Richard Parsons has become one of the most prominent figures in American business, without rising through the usual ranks required to reach a high-level corporate position. Named president of Dime Savings Bank of New York in 1988 even though he had had no previous experience in the banking industry, he masterminded a turnaround at the bank in just a few years. In the early 1990s he became president of Time Warner Inc., making him one of the most highly ranked African Americans in the corporate United States.

Hard work has been a crucial component of the Parsons success story, a value he claims to have learned from his father. As he told Ebony, I have never missed a single day of work in my life. Never. Not one. Also fueling his rise were connections he has made with important people over the years. A gregarious and thoughtful man, Mr. Parsons has risen by winning the affection and loyalty of influential mentors, wrote Laurence Zuckerman in the New York Times.

Born into a family of humble means in the BedfordStuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York, and raised in Queens, New York, Parsons revealed an inherent intelligence but had few aspirations as a youth. He graduated high school at the age of 16, then devoted much of his attention to sports as a student at the University of Hawaii. He played varsity basketball there, and was also the social chairman of his fraternity. His journey to future success was given some impetus by his girlfriend at the time, Laura Bush, who became his wife in 1968.

Left to my own devices, I dont feel any compulsion to strive, he told the New York Times in 1990. My wife became my focus and the person to whom I owed my best. His plans to become a fighter pilot were redirected to law school largely due to Bushs influence. According toEbony, Parsons said that the woman I was dating [Bush] told me, You like to argue so much you ought to become a lawyer and get paid for it.

At Union University of the University of Albany Law School, Parsons helped pay his way through school by working part-time as a janitor and later as an aide in the State Assembly. He graduated number one in his class of more than 100 students at the age of 23, then received the highest marks among 3,600 lawyers who

At a Glance

Born April 4, 1948 in Brooklyn, NY; son of Lorenzo tocklair (an airline technician) and Isabelle (a homemaker; maiden name, Judd) Parsons; married Laura Ann Bush, August 30, 1968; children: Gregory, Leslie, Rebecca Education: Graduated from University of Hawaii, 1968; Union University, University of Albany Law School J.D., 1971.

Served as assistant counsel to Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Albany, NY, 197174; called to the New York State Bar, 1972; appointed deputy counsel to the vice president, Washington, DC, 1975; general counsel and associate director of the White House Domestic Council, 197577; Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler (law firm), New York, NY, attorney, 197788, became partner, 1979; Dime Savings Bank of New York (became Dime Bancorp, 1995), New York, NY, chief operating officer, 198890, chairman and chief executive officer, 199095; named head of mayor-elect transition council, New York, NY, 1993; served as chairman of New York Citys Economic Development Corporation; Time Warner Inc., New York, NY, president, 1995 Member of presidential Drug Task Force; chairman, Wildcat Service Organization. Member of the board of directors of Dime Savings Bank, Federal National Mortgage Association, Philip Morris Companies, Time Warner lnc., New York Zoological Society, and American Television & Communications Inc.; trustee of Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Howard University, and Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Addresses: Office Time-Warner Inc., 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY

took the state bar examination in 1971.

Career Shaped by Rockefeller

Beginning his legal career as an aide on New York governor Nelson Rockefellers legal staff, Parsons made a very favorable impression on the governor. Governor Rockefeller rewarded Parsonss solid performance by keeping him on his staff when he became vice president under President Gerald Ford in 1974. President Ford also used his services, first as a general council and then as associate director of the domestic council. In the latter post, Parsons focused on drug issues.

Rockefellers influence on Parsons remained strong and prompted him to become a Republican whose views were liberal on social issues and conservative on economic ones. It also brought Parsons to the attention of high-ranking people who later sought his services. As Parsons said in the New York Times in 1994, becoming a part of that Rockefeller entourage created for me a group of people whove looked out for me ever since. Parsons own concern for the underprivileged has been clearly shown by his work as chairman of the Wildcat Service Corporation, which has provided on-the-job instruction for people whose previous crimes, drug addiction, or poverty have made it difficult to find work.

By the mid-1970s Parsons was noted as a rising star among black professionals, and he was profiled inBlack Enterprises Under 30 & Moving Up series in 1975. When departing Deputy Attorney General Harold R. Tyler, Jr., became a partner at a well-established New York City law firm in 1977, he asked Parsons to come on board. Parsons became a partner in just two years at Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler, a move that typically demanded seven years. In his 11 years with the firm, he made his mark in both corporate law and civil litigation. Among his clients were such high-profile figures as Happy Rockefeller and the cosmetics queen EsteeLauder.

Critical to the next chapter in the Parsons success story was his work with the Dimes Saving Bank of New York, which he provided with legal counsel for about six years while with Patterson, Belknap, Webb&Tyler. Just when he seemed poised to become the first black to head a major law firm, shock waves rippled through the New York corporate world in 1988 when Parsons was appointed chief operating officer of the Dime by chairman and CEO Harry Albright, Jr. Before being offered the position, Parsons had never even considered entering the banking business. As he later told Black En terprise, My wife talked me into it. She said I needed the change.

Parsonss appointment made him the first black to manage a lending company the size of Dime Savings Bank. Its a statement by and to corporate America that there are no more areas where African Americans havent succeeded, he told the New York Times in 1990. Some top officials at the bank questioned his appointment, both because of his lack of experience in the banking industry and his previous work in government that made him likely to leave the company for the political arena. Parsons answered these reservations by promising to devote his full attention to his new $525,000-a-year post. Over the years Parsons has, however, admitted the possibility of entering politics later in life. Its a venue to which I could see myself returning at some point in time, he told the New York Times in 1994, referring to public service as the highest calling, large and important work.

Parsons began working at Dime during a difficult period. The bank had suffered a series of losses due to the drastic devaluation of New York City real estate in the late 1980s, and during the previous year it had lost $92.3 million. Parsons also had to deal with an onslaught of unhappy regulators. Under his tutelage the bank staged a remarkable comeback, largely through his massive overhauling of the banks management systems and work force. In just a few years he reduced the Dimes $1 billion in bad debts to $335 million.

During that time he also earned the respect of the staff for his fair treatment. Colleagues say Parsons management style helped smooth the painful layoffs that he had to make, wrote Fonda Marie Lloyd and Mark Lowery in Black Enterprise.They credit him with keeping employees informed every step of the way, at one point even producing several videos that were distributed to employees. When Albright departed the Dime, Parsons became chairman and CEO. With the bank now on solid financial ground, he engineered a merger with Anchor Savings Bank to create Dime Bancorp in early 1995. The merger created the fourth largest thrift institution in the nation and the largest on the East Coast, with assets worth $20 billion.

Politics Differed From Most Blacks

In 1993 Parsons was criticized by other blacks for supporting Rudolph Giuliani in the New York City mayoral race, instead of the incumbent Democrat, black mayor David Dinkins. This political stance was consistent with his rejection of the Democrats philosophy. According to an article in Black Enterprise, Parsons feels that the Democrats believe in taking from one group to give to another one, while the Rockefeller Republicans espouse a policy of equipping a group with skills so that they can achieve what they need on their own. You cant give something to somebody to have, said Parsons in the same article. Then, they dont value it. Value is associated with hard work.

After Giuliani was elected, he named Parsons to be head of his transition council. Peter J. Powers, New York Citys First Deputy Mayor at the time, complemented Parsonss leadership skills in the New York Times, noting that Parsons really knows how to bring people together and find common ground. Mayor Giuliani later asked Parsons to become his Deputy mayor for Economic Development. Although Parsons refused that position, he consented to work as chairman of the citys Economic Development Corporation.

Admiration for Parsonss skills in the business world resulted in his being courted as a board member for a number of leading companies and institutions, including Time Warner Inc., Philip Morris, Tristar Pictures, Howard University, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His involvement with Time Warner resulted in his developing close ties with important company executives such as Robert W. Morgado, the chairman of the Warner Music Group, and Michael J. Fuchs, chairman of HBO. Parsons was asked to become the new president of Time Warner by its chairman, Gerald M. Levin, in the fall of 1994. In the Washington Post, Levin called Parsons an exceptional business leader with the broad experience, financial acumen and the knowledge of our business that will strengthen and solidify our corporate management.

Parsons accepted the presidency for a reported salary of several million dollars a year. The position placed him second in command over the entire Time Warner holdings in magazine and book publishing, music, film entertainment, theme parks, and cable television. Meanwhile, he answered complaints from colleagues at the Dime that he was deserting them. This opportunity with Time Warner is a once in a lifetime one. It was either you go for it, or its gone forever, claimed Parsons mBlack Enterprise.Its not a bad time for me to make a move. I know the bank is in good hands.

The Parsons appointment was not without controversy at Time Warner. He was again entering an industry that was new to him, and some doubted his qualifications. Parsons also inherited a number of problems when he assumed his new post in January of 1995. Time Warners record division was experiencing difficulty, and company officials were suspicious about the designs of Edgar Bronfman of the Seagram Companies, which owned 15 percent of the companys stock. The conglomerate was also saddled with significant debt. Chief among his tasks since joining Time Warner have been the restructuring of the companys financial and administrative operations, as well as evaluating the responsibilities of artists regarding explicit displays of sex and violence.

Role of Race Downplayed

Some considered the Parsons appointment at Time Warner to be a significant achievement for black executives, one that helps pave the way for them to enter the highest positions in business. There are a number of other black executives who have elevated positions in corporate America, said Parsons inBlack Enterprise.The process is rolling forward, even if it isnt moving as fast as some of us would like. Despite his distinction as a high-ranking black in business, Parsons downplays the racial aspects of his success. He has claimed that race was never a defining character in his life. I dont do anything differently than I would otherwise because I have that responsibility to my family, he told the New York Times in 1994. Whether I was an African-American, an Arab-American, a Jewish-American, or some other American, there are a lot of people who I cannot let down, so you have to live your life a certain way to be a role model to the people who are important to you.

Sources

Black Enterprise, October 1994, pp. 68-70, 72, 76, 77; January 1995, p. 15.

Business Week, November 14, 1994, pp. 38, 39.

Ebony, June 1988, pp. 156, 158.

Emerge!, February 1995, p. 69.

New York Times, May 8, 1990, p. D5; August 26, 1990, p. D5; July 7, 1994, p. D4; October 31, 1994, pp. DI, D6.

Wall Street Journal, May 8, 1990, p. BIO; January 30, 1995, pp. Bl, B3.

Washington Post, November 1, 1994, p. D5.

Ed Decker

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