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NEWSMAKER-Time Warner's Bewkes "born to be CEO"
By Kenneth Li
NEW YORK Nov 5 (Reuters) - Jeffrey Bewkes's ascension to the top executive post at the world's biggest media company Time Warner Inc (TWX.N), unlike his predecessor's, surprised no one.
His rare combination of financial savvy and knack for managing creative talent made him an obvious choice to succeed Richard Parsons, who was viewed in 2002 as a dark-horse candidate to run a company that controls some of the top brands in media: CNN, People magazine and paid cable network HBO.
"Even back in the early 1980s, it was easy to pick him out as one of the people who would be, if he stuck around, a contender to run the organization," HBO former chairman and CEO Frank Biondi said of Bewkes. "He was born to be CEO."
Bewkes, 55, cut his teeth at HBO in 1979 when cable television was still in its infancy.
He graduated from Yale and received his MBA at Stanford, then did brief stints at Sonoma Vineyards and Citibank before landing at HBO's sales and marketing department.
He rose through the ranks and was named HBO's CEO by 1995, building the network from a second-run movie outlet into a developer of critically acclaimed original TV series such as "The Sopranos," "Sex and the City" and "Six Feet Under" during a period now viewed as HBO's golden age.
Parsons tapped Bewkes to be his right-hand man overseeing the company's content divisions. He was promoted to chief operating officer and president by December 2005, after Don Logan, who oversaw cable and AOL, retired.
"His results-oriented management style and deep industry knowledge will be invaluable as he drives growth at Time Warner," Parsons, 59, said in a statement on Monday that announced that Bewkes will become CEO on Jan. 1.
"Throughout his career, Jeff has demonstrated the capacity to generate industry-leading performances at our businesses, whether measured in terms of financial, operational or creative successes," said Parsons, who will remain Time Warner's chairman.
Bewkes's challenge now is to find a way to boost Time Warner's shares, which have languished over the past 5 years. The stock has fallen about 18 percent in 2007, underperforming peers including News Corp NWSa.N and Walt Disney Co (DIS.N).
Wall Street analysts have urged Time Warner to take a variety of actions, from spinning off part or all of AOL to selling more of its 84 percent stake in Time Warner Cable (TWC.N).
Expectations are high for Bewkes, who had been an outspoken critic of the AOL-Time Warner merger. Time Warner shares rose nearly 4 percent on Oct. 26 on reports of his appointment, and rose another 3 percent on Monday before easing back.
"We have a lot to do, and I'm intensely focused on building shareholder value," Bewkes said in a statement.
So enamored was Biondi of his former employee he had identified Bewkes as one of the few executives he would like to keep on the board if billionaire investor Carl Icahn's battle to control Time Warner Inc had succeeded last year.
Biondi, a former CEO of Viacom Inc VIAb.N, was tapped by Icahn's team to run Time Warner if its attempt to split up the media conglomerate succeeded.
"Jeff is an extraordinarily good analyst," Biondi said. "Over the years, he's become a good operator."
(Additional reporting by Dane Hamilton and Doug Young; Editing by Brian Moss)
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