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Republican guard - a profile
of Richard Parsons

Richard Parsons, co-chief operating officer of AOL Time Warner, was this week announced as successor to Gerald Levin, the internet and media behemoth's CEO, a move that has sent shockwaves through the industry, writes Claire Billings.

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The appointment has stunned the US media sector, not least because he is black. One newspaper article hailed the decision as of equal importance to US business as Colin Powell's appointment as the first African-American secretary of state was to US politics. Both men are also Republicans.

The other surprise is that the new CEO comes from the Time Warner side of the company. Those men, and they are mostly men, were seen as the old guard after the merger by AOL executives who saw themselves as the men who would inherit the company. That this is not the case only highlights further the changing fortunes of those who saw themselves as leading the new-media revolution.

The fact that Parson's co-chief operating officer Robert Pittman was not chosen for the role is likely to have been of equal surprise, as he has long been tipped as Levin's successor once his retirement was announced.

Parsons has been with the company since 1995 when he was appointed president of Time Warner. He also became co-chief operating officer with Pittman, one of the founders of MTV.

He is said to be AOL Time Warner's most accomplished diplomat, described as gentle and well-connected, and there are few people in New York with a bad word to say about him.

Parsons, who is now aged 53 -- 10 years younger than outgoing chief executive Levin -- worked with Pittman to integrate Time Warner with AOL when the two companies merged in 2000.

It is through this work that he has built himself a reputation for solving problems and consensus building, which is what appears to have swung the decision about the leadership of the company in his favour, whereas Pittman is known as a formidable deal-maker and focused operational manager.

Parsons was head of a law firm before he joined AOL Time Warner and before that he was a senior aide in Gerald Ford's White House. He is well connected in Washington, to the extent that he was offered a job in President George W Bush's cabinet as US trade representative.

Parsons chose AOL Time Warner instead and decided to use his political prowess to further his media career, and to lobby for the merger of AOL and Time Warner -- a move which has earned him perhaps the most revered and powerful media position in the world.

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