Logan's run: Reflecting on life at Time Warner

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Time Warner's Don Logan, 62, retired as chairman of the media and communications group Dec. 31, but he can sometimes still be found in his New York City office, filling his new role as nonexecutive chairman of Time Warner Cable. Advertising Age sat down with the Alabama native and got his views on growing up poor, his path to the No. 2 spot under Chairman-CEO Richard D. Parsons, shareholder Carl Ichahn's takeover bid and his well-known passion for bass fishing. An edited transcript follows.

Advertising Age: Would Time Warner businesses perform better if they were split apart?

Don Logan: We've looked at it a dozen different times and ways and it's certainly not clear and not evident that breaking it apart would allow businesses to do anything that they're not able to do right now on their own.

Usually when you break something apart, it's because they aren't performing, the results aren't there. But every single business in this company was up double-digits last year.

If they weren't performing, you'd look at it differently: "This one's in the toilet and growing at 1%, 2% or going down year over year-maybe it needs to be off so it can get a cortisone injection or something to make it operate in a different way, or get some illegal steroids or something."

But we don't have that, so when you say they'd do better, that's where the logic kind of falls down. How could they do better? I mean, what are they gonna do?

AA: How is AOL today?

Mr. Logan: It's on solid footing. It has a strategy that's in sync with what's happening in the marketplace. But I'm always a show-me kind of guy. You've got to put it in the bank. It's nice to talk about growth but it's better to put quarter after quarter, year after year of actual results in and they've got to demonstrate to everyone and prove that they can do that. So they still have that to do. But they have the means, they have the resources, they have the strategy, they have the plan, they have the pieces in place to do it now.

AA: Some Time Inc. content lives behind the AOL wall. Is there a future for gated access online?

Mr. Logan: Free content right now is the driving force and so many of the users expect everything to be free. But there are a few examples, like the music services popping up that are 99› a download. Now there are people that are trying to develop subscription models. There will be more models that will develop on a pay basis as we go forward.

AA: You started in publishing 35 years ago; what's different about the business now?

Mr. Logan: Too many magazines. Everybody needs to prune their portfolio a little bit. Go out to a newsstand and there's so many out there jammed in that it's hard to find them. And most of the magazines are not very good ... they just throw things together thinking they can generate some advertising.

Another change has just been in the advertising side itself, with the consolidation in corporate America within industries and within agencies. There is a lack of time that one gets to go in and talk about the value and relationship that readers have with the product. And we're in a world where there's more and more choices that readers have. It's a time of change.

AA: Is it possible to launch general-interest magazines anymore?

MR. LOGAN: It's hard. We're in an age of specialization. But I wouldn't say never.

AA: MTV just reorganized to put the group creating short-form content on the same plane as the group developing linear TV series. Should other media companies take that route?

Mr. Logan: The more you can sell the same product, the better margins you're going to have off of it. To me, it's more a line extension of existing content than a whole new media form that's going out.

AA: So you'd be less interested in a group thinking about cellphone screens than in adapting the content you have now?

Mr. Logan: For the first few years until we develop the business model and we get people used to using it and we get the revenue coming in, I'd rather do the latter. Let's take what we have, find the best of it, package it and put it in there. If over time it morphs into a different kind of business, it's easy to staff up and to add the creative folks and begin to think of it in a different way. But the first thing is to make it successful.

AA: Warner Bros. Entertainment, a Time Warner unit, is combining The WB with UPN and calling the new channel The CW. How do you like the name?

Mr. Logan: I don't know. It's just a couple letters. I don't know why it doesn't have three. ABC, CBS. ... I think it's one letter short.

AA: As a kid, did you envision this career?

Mr. Logan: I had no idea what a career was. Neither of my parents got past the eighth grade. All my relatives I knew farmed or worked on farms or, if they were lucky, got a job at a factory somewhere. To me, the idea of a good job was one that paid a good hourly wage and paid overtime.

AA: You've been in charge of reviving AOL, but earlier worked for NASA and got into publishing by creating the computer center at Progressive Farmer Co. What was your toughest job?

Mr. Logan: Picking cotton is the hardest job ever invented. You're down on your knees or bent over in the middle of two thick rows, cutting your hands, dragging the sack behind you.

AA: Did you ever recall those times during tough days at Time Warner?

Mr. Logan: I've always told people you've got to remember your roots. Things aren't so bad as sometimes people talk themselves into believing. People ask me what I would have done differently. I say, "pretty much nothing." I was pretty happy with all the jobs I ever had all the way through. I never aspired to the next level. I never lobbied for it, I never politicked for it. I never asked for a raise.

AA: We've talked a lot about the changes in the media world; any changes in bass fishing over the last few decades?

mr. logan: It's probably been more monumental than the publishing business. Look at the lures that we have today; look at the fish finders. Now we know when to fish when it's hot or cold, how deep to fish, what causes them to bite, not bite. But it's still so hard to catch them suckers, even with all that information.

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