Time Warner chief takes heat

Los Angeles Times - - Business - By Clau­dia Eller

At Time Warner Inc.’s an­nual share­holder meet­ing Fri­day, in­vestors ap­peared to be more con­cerned about such is­sues as the com­pen­sa­tion of its top ex­ec­u­tives and the me­dia gi­ant’s stock per­for­mance over the last five years than the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing last week’s fir­ing of HBO chief Chris Al­brecht.

One share­holder men­tioned Al­brecht in pass­ing, prais­ing Time Warner for act­ing swiftly in dis­charg­ing the ex­ec­u­tive af­ter he was ar­rested in Las Ve­gas for as­sault­ing his girl­friend and af­ter the Los An­ge­les Times ran a story about his 1991 phys­i­cal al­ter­ca­tion with a sub­or­di­nate.

Time Warner Pres­i­dent Jeff Bewkes, who in his for­mer role at HBO had over­seen a set­tle­ment of nearly $500,000 to Sasha Emer­son, Al­brecht’s un­der­ling, was not con­fronted about the pay­ment at the meet­ing de­spite cor­po­rate gov­er­nance ex­perts’ crit­i­cism of it as a waste of share­holder money that should have been dis­closed at the time.

Bewkes made him­self scarce be­fore and af­ter the meet­ing, un­like his boss, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Richard Par­sons, who greeted share­hold­ers as they walked into the Steven J. Ross Theater on the Warner Bros. Stu­dios lot in Bur­bank. Af­ter Par­sons noted at the gath­er­ing how share­hold­ers saw a 25% re­turn on their money in 2006, the CEO found him­self in the hot seat.

One share­holder crit­i­cized Par­sons’ five-year plan, not­ing that the stock had re­turned only about 13.6% since he took charge in 2002, com­pared with News Corp.’s 81% gain dur­ing that pe­riod and Walt Dis­ney Co.’s 56% in­crease. Par­sons said the stock tanked af­ter he took the helm in part be­cause of the dot-com bust, an ac­count­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion by fed­eral reg­u­la­tors and a raft of share­holder law­suits. He told share­hold­ers that he had “cleared the field” of those ob­sta­cles and that Time Warner faced bet­ter times.

At the meet­ing, Par­sons also was taken to task for his pay of $22 mil­lion last year, which one share­holder said was among the high­est in cor­po­rate Amer­ica for a com­pany of Time Warner’s size. Par­sons also took heat for leav­ing bil­lions of dol­lars on the ta­ble by sell­ing the com­pany’s stake in Google a few years ago, be­fore the search en­gine’s huge stock run-up.

De­fend­ing the move, Par­son said the com­pany made a siz­able re­turn and had rein­vested the money in its busi­nesses, which in­clude AOL, Time Warner Cable and such cable chan­nels and mag­a­zines as CNN and Time.


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