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Parsons, Richard(1948–) - Corporate executive, Excels in Academics, Career Develops, Becomes CEO of Dime Savings Bank, Chronology

time warner university president

Richard Dean Parsons, CEO and president of the AOL-Time Warner Corporation, emerged through academic and corporate circles to become one of the most successful African Americans in corporate America.

Parsons was born in the economically disadvantaged Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York on April 14, 1948 to Lorenzo Locklair, an airline technician (who installed and repaired electronic navigation systems for the Sperry Rand Company), and Isabelle Judd Parsons (a homemaker). He was raised in the rough neighborhood of Jamaica, New York, a city in Queens County. Parsons was a bright child with a gift for charming people by telling entertaining stories.

Parson changed his attitude dramatically (from negative to positive) and reached a turning point when he met and later married Laura Ann Bush, a child psychologist, on August 30, 1968. To this union three children were born (Gregory, Leslie, and Rebecca). Parsons credits his father with teaching him to concentrate on achievement rather than dwell on race. Parsons’ grandfather, Judd, was a groundskeeper on Pocantico, part of the Rockefeller estate, long before Parsons became a protégé of Nelson Rockefeller. Parsons later lived in a guesthouse on the estate.

Excels in Academics

Parsons skipped two grades and graduated from high school at the age of sixteen. He received a B.A. in history from the University of Hawaii in 1968. He was involved in sports at the University of Hawaii; the six-foot-four-inch Parsons played basketball, was the social chairman of his fraternity, but was unenthusiastic about academics. Parsons worked at various odd jobs, including in a parking garage and gas company to support himself while at the University of Hawaii. He received a juris doctorate from the Union University, University of Albany Law School in 1971. He paid his law school expenses by working as a part time janitor and later as an aide in the New York State Assembly. He graduated at the age of twenty-three, number one of more than 100 students and received the highest score among 3,600 lawyers in 1971 who took the state bar exam.

Career Develops

Parsons began his career as a member of New York governor Nelson Rockefeller’s legal staff where he served when Rockefeller became vice president of the United States under President Gerald Ford in 1974. He served as assistant counsel to Governor Rockefeller from 1971 to 1974 and was called to the New York State bar in 1972.

Under President Gerald Ford, Parsons became a senior White House aide and served as a general counsel and an associate director of the Domestic Council. Parsons joined the Domestic Council staff in March 1975, serving both as legal council and as an associate director. As counsel to the Domestic Council, he worked closely with the Counsel to the President in providing legal guidance in the formulation of domestic policy.

As associate director, Parsons succeeded Geoffrey Shepard in handling general government, which included justice, treasury, commerce, the postal service, civil rights, and drugs. In the May 1975 reorganization, his area of responsibility was divided, and Parsons became associate director for justice, crime, civil rights, and communications (communications was transferred to F. Lynn May in January of 1976). In April 1976 when Kathleen Ryan left the Domestic Council, responsibility for consumer affairs was given to Parsons’ office. Parsons served with the Domestic Council until the end of the Ford administration and returned to New York to work for Governor Nelson Rockefeller.

From March 1975 to January 1976, Parsons was assisted in his duties by Lyn May, who had worked for Geoffrey Shepard. Dawn Bennett-Alexander assisted Parsons from March 1976 until the end of the administration. Kathleen Ryan served as an assistant to Parsons for a few weeks after she joined the Domestic Council in April, 1975.

Parsons and his staff were responsible for providing advice to the president and formulating domestic policy in the areas of affirmative action, busing, civil rights, communication, consumer affairs, crime, drugs, illegal aliens, Indians, justice, postal service, Puerto Rico, privacy, regulatory reform, sex discrimination, and voting rights.

Becomes CEO of Dime Savings Bank

Parsons was urged by Harry Albright Jr. to become the chief operating officer of the Dime Savings Bank in 1988 with a salary of $525,000 annually. Harry Albright Jr., Rockefeller’s executive assistant in Albany, New York and previous chairman of the Dime Savings Bank, cited Parsons as a great member of Rockefeller’s staff and one who has great judgment and leadership skills. Parsons was left in control of a bank that was apparently dying. The Dimes’ nonperforming assets were nearly 11 percent of the total assets by year 1991 in addition to $1 billion in bad debt. The bank suffered many losses due to New York City real estate devaluation in the 1980s and during the previous year had lost $92.3 million. Parsons dealt with unhappy regulators. He also earned staff respect at Dime with his fair treatment of personnel. In a Black Enterprise article, Fonda Marie Lloyd and Mark Lowery stated that “colleagues say Parsons’ management style helped smooth painful layoffs (two thousand of the four thousand employees) that he had to make.” They credit him with keeping employees informed every step of the way, producing videos for employee distribution. He became the first African American male to manage a financial institution of Dime’s size and reduce the bank’s debt from $1 billion to $335 million.

Parsons was profiled in Black Enterprise ‘s “Under 30 & Moving Up”’ series in 1975. In 1977 deputy attorney general Harold R. Tyler Jr. requested Parsons to come aboard at Patterson, Belknap, Webb, & Tyler where he became a partner in two years, a move that usually demands seven years. During his eleven years with the firm he was successful in both corporate law and civil litigation.



Born in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York on April 14


Earns a B.A. from University of Hawaii


Graduates from Albany Law School


Begins career with New York governor Nelson Rockefeller’s legal staff


Joins firm of Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler


Becomes partner with Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler


Appointed chief operating officer of Dime Savings Bank


Receives honorary LL.D. from Adelphi University


Becomes chairman and CEO; receives honorary LL.D. from Medgar-Evers College


Becomes Time Warner president


Guides the merger of Time Warner with America Online (AOL)


Replaces Gerald Levin as CEO of the AOL-Time Warner Corporation


Awarded honorary doctor of humane letters by the Board of Regents of the University of Hawaii

Parsons chose to support Rudolph Giuliani in the New York City mayoral race instead of Democrat black mayor David Dinkins. In a Black Enterprise article, he openly rejected the Democrats’ philosophy of taking from one group to give to another. In contrast, he embraced the Rockefeller Republicans’ philosophy of equipping a group with skills so they can achieve what they need on their own. Parsons was chosen by Mayor Giuliani to head the Transition Council and later in 1993 to be the deputy mayor for economic development. Parsons refused the position but consented to work as the Economic Development Corporation chairperson.

Parsons became a board member for Time Warner, Inc., Phillip Morris, Tristar Pictures, Harvard University, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As a result of his involvement with Time Warner, he developed close ties with Robert W. Morgado, the chairman of the Warner Music Group, and Michael J. Fuchs, chairman of HBO.In the fall of 1994, Parsons was requested by Gerald M. Levin to become the president of Time Warner. On October 1, 1995, Parsons was appointed president of Time Warner with a salary of several million dollars per year. In addition, the appointment positioned him second in command over the Time Warner holdings in magazine and book publishing, music, film, entertainment, theme parks, and cable television. He was the first black president and one of the highest-ranking blacks in corporate America. Parsons’ responsibilities at Time Warner included corporate finance and legal affairs activities and membership on the board of directors as well as the boards of TriStar Pictures and the Cable Group, American Television, and Communication (now Time Warner Cable).

Merges Time Warner with America Online

In 2000, Parsons guided the merger of Time Warner with America Online (AOL). An article in Business Week Online stated that after accepting the Time Warner presidency, “Parsons gradually made himself indispensable to Time Warner by taking on tough assignments that the increasingly insular Levin could not do himself.” On May 16, 2001, Parsons replaced Gerald Levin as CEO of the AOL-Time Warner Corporation.

In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Parsons along with former U.S. senator Daniel Moynihan to a commission to strengthen Social Security Program changes. Parsons also served as chairman of the Apollo Theater Foundation, Inc. and sat on the boards of several arts, educational, and commercial organizations, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Citigroup, and Esteé Lauder, Inc. Parsons served as trustee of numerous Rockefeller entities, including one that holds stock in all of the family businesses.

In 2003 the University of Hawaii awarded Parsons the honorary doctor of humane letters degree. This degree is awarded by the Board of Regents to individuals distinguished by their national or international reputation or accomplishments in scholarship, public service, profession, industry, or other areas. Parsons credits his experiences at the University of Hawaii as preparation for his future in corporate America.

Parsons and his wife Laura own a vineyard in Montalcino, Italy. In his spare time he enjoys shooting pool and listening to music. Errol Garner and Miles Davis are his favorite musicians. In a Black Enterprise article Parsons stated: “What motivates me is a sense of accountability to people who are important in my life.” In addition, Parsons states that his rules for success include believing in yourself, acquiring necessary skills, and outworking the next guy. “That’s what makes you different from your competition,” he maintains.

Parsons, Sir Charles Algernon [next] [back] Parsons, James Benton(1911–1993) - Judge, Chronology, Recognition of Service

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