NEW YORK -- Richard Parsons, who began his career as a protege of New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and went on to triumphs in the worlds of law and banking, was named president of Time Warner Inc. yesterday.
Mr. Parsons will leave his current position as chairman of Dime Savings Bank, which is in the process of merging with Anchor Bank.
The Brooklyn-born Mr. Parsons now becomes a potential contender for the top spot at the world's largest media and entertainment company.
He also becomes the most highly placed African-American in corporate America.
"He's incredibly sharp and he's a keen businessman," said Henry Luce III, a descendant of the founder of Time Inc. and a member of the Time Warner board, on which Mr. Parsons has sat since 1991. Mr. Luce said that when Gerald Levin, chief executive of the company, suggested Mr. Parsons for the president's job, it seemed "a natural" to other board members.
Time Warner insiders say Mr. Levin has been under pressure from the board to find someone to help him run the $15 billion Time Warner empire, which includes Time and Sports Illustrated magazines, HBO, Warner Bros. and a music division whose artists include Eric Clapton and the musician formerly known as Prince.
If Mr. Levin had picked a current division head, he could have stirred animosities while leaving a hole in his management ranks, observers said.
Under the arrangement announced yesterday, Mr. Levin will retain direct oversight of the company's operating divisions, while Mr. Parsons, upon taking up his post next February, will be responsible for corporate financial activities and legal affairs.
The company declined to say what Mr. Parsons will be earning. Mr. Levin earned more than $5 million in salary and bonus last year.
Mr. Parsons, 46, said that he views his role as working with Mr. Levin "to help the company move ahead at a faster rate of speed." Having served alone at one time in all the top positions at Dime, Mr. Parsons said, "I know it can be very lonely when you have nobody to discuss things with."
Mr. Parsons said he and Mr. Levin had not discussed the issue of succession. Time Warner officials would not comment on that point directly, and noted that Mr. Levin is only a few years older than Mr. Parsons. But Lawrence Buttenwieser, a director, said Parsons' appointment "certainly puts him in a better position to know enough to run the company."
Sheryl Hilliard Tucker, editor in chief of Black Enterprise magazine, said the appointment represents the first move by an African-American into what she described as the corporate stratosphere, and showed that opportunities are greatest in fast-growing industries like entertainment. "You can't put a color on creativity," she said.
Time Warner's top ranks also include Sylvia Rhone, a black woman who became head of a major division of its music group in July.