TIME WARNER INSTALLS DIGITAL CHIEF: GRUMBLING ROILS THROUGH RANKS AS CFO NAMED TO HEAD DIGITAL MEDIA

By Published on .

The carping started almost as soon as the memo hit the in-boxes announcing Richard Bressler's rise from Time Warner's chief financial officer to the new post of chairman-CEO of Time Warner Digital Media.

Gerald Levin, Time Warner chairman-CEO, has targeted Digital Media as the company's next growth engine, and has now anointed Mr. Bressler, 41, to oversee it. Yet, in a company where division heads guard their turf like lords over fiefdoms, some question whether they should be required to surrender control over their digital future to Mr. Bressler.

ANONYMOUS COMPLAINTS

"It's not going to sit well among a number of us if Bressler . . . starts nixing projects we want to do here, or even exerts a lot of control," said one Turner executive, who-like most people interviewed for this article-requested anonymity.

Added a Time Inc. executive: "The division heads are fuming. In the long run, I don't see how it can work."

Mr. Bressler is charged with focusing the diverse digital interests of the cable, music, video and magazine divisions into a structure that can best position Time Warner for a future where digital-based businesses, the Internet and cable meld.

His duties include overseeing the company's investment in high-speed online business Road Runner; the expansion of Columbia House's online music-selling business; and e-commerce; as well as digital cable, digital music and DVD.

OVERSEEING FIVE NET HUBS

One of his first tasks is to oversee the rollout and management of the five cross-divisional Internet hubs-focusing on general news, sports, entertainment, lifestyle, and business-announced in May. The leaders of the five vertical hubs now report to Mr. Bressler.

The ascension of Mr. Bressler also benefited his new lieutenant, Michael Pepe, 44, named president-chief operating officer of Time Warner Digital Media.

In January, Mr. Pepe was appointed to the new position of president of Time Warner E-commerce, reporting to Time Inc. Chairman-CEO Don Logan. Now Mr. Pepe reports to Mr. Bressler, and Mr. Logan, like all division heads, must defer to the two of them when it comes to Internet initiatives.

Despite what's buzzing along the Time Warner rumor mill, Mr. Pepe claims micromanaging is not on his agenda.

A FOCAL POINT

"Two people can't run every aspect of the business, but we can be a focal point and a repository for what's going on and provide a strategic framework for how it all fits together," he said.

The challenge for Messrs. Bressler and Pepe is to rein in those whose plans don't match corporate strategy.

"Getting it to work is all about cooperation, and synergy only happens when people want it to happen," warned one former Time Warner executive.

In his internal memo, Mr. Levin said the "ability to manage the immense resources of this company in a concerted, coherent digital strategy is key to Time Warner's future growth."

SHREWD WAY TO GET CREDIT

The move was viewed by outsiders as a shrewd way for Time Warner to get market-value credit from Wall Street for its Internet assets. Putting the company's chief financial officer in charge of a unified digital unit naturally leads investors and media analysts to foresee the possibility of a spinoff or public offering. But Time Warner insiders are waiting to see how successful the new approach proves to be.

"Gerry [Levin] is saying he wants one coherent corporate strategy, but the notion that you can take two bureaucrats from a large company and put them in charge of new media-a field dominated by entrepreneurial thinkers-seems the most

In this article:
Most Popular