Time Warner chief takes heat
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.