Today's Pride of Bed-Stuy: Richard Parsons

He sat at the helm of one of the largest media companies in the world, becoming one of the most powerful executives in the United States

February 27, 2013: Business titan Richard Dean Parsons was born on April 4, 1948, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, to Lorenzo Locklair Parsons and Isabelle Judd.

Parsons was one of five children raised in South Ozone Park, Queens, where he nearly blew up a friend's house trying to make rocket fuel on the stove. His mother still lives in Queens, and he regularly escorts her to lunch.

He attended public schools in New York City and applied to Princeton only to be waitlisted. Instead, Parsons enrolled at the University of Hawaii in 1964 at the age of 16, where he played basketball. He chose Hawaii, he told the New York Times, because a pretty girl who was his lab partner in high school had grown up there.

Hawaii also was where he met his future wife, Laura Ann Bush. They were married in 1968. After graduating, Parsons went on to the Union University's Albany Law School in New York, finishing first in his class after having worked part-time as a janitor and, later, as an aide in the New York State Assembly.

In 1977, Parsons joined the New York City law firm of Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler, rising to become a managing partner. One of his clients was the Dime Savings Bank of New York, which he joined as chief operating officer in 1988.

A moderate Republican, Parsons campaigned for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 1989 (and worked alongside him at his law firm before that) and has served every Republican president since Richard M. Nixon in some way: Under George W. Bush, he was a member of the presidential task force that studied the possibility of making major changes to Social Security.

Parsons downplays the racial aspects of his success. He has claimed that race was never a "defining character" in his life. "I don't do anything differently than I would otherwise because I have that responsibility to my family," he told the New York Times in 1994.

"Whether I was an African-American, an Arab-American, a Jewish-American, or some other American, there are a lot of people who I cannot let down, so you have to live your life a certain way to be a role model to the people who are important to you," he said.

Standing at 6' 4", with broad shoulders, Parsons is a physically impressive man who could fill any boardroom. His personality is his main credential. He is known as a smooth talker and often is referred to by by his colleagues as a “diplomat."

When Parsons was named chief executive officer (CEO) of Time Warner in 2002 and chairman in 2003, he sat at the helm of one of the largest media companies in the world, becoming one of the most powerful executives in the United States.

But he also inherited a mountain of problems. A 2001 merger between Internet icon America Online (AOL) and Time Warner had proven to be a failed experiment. As a result, the company struggled to maintain its credibility, its stock prices tumbled, and it faced $27 billion in debt.

By the mid-2000s, however, analysts reported that Time Warner was on a definite upswing: employee morale was high, investors were newly confident, and the monstrous debt had been significantly slashed. And most agreed that friendly giant Richard Parsons had been just what the fractured titan needed.

In January 2005, Institutional Investor magazine named Parsons the top CEO in the entertainment industry. BusinessWeek once dubbed him the "anti-mogul" for his relaxed, down-to-earth management style.

He also has served on a number of boards and commissions including the Mayor's Commission on Economic Opportunity in New York, the Apollo Theatre Foundation, the boards of Howard University, the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, Citigroup and Estée Lauder, Inc.

In 2006, Parsons was chosen to serve as co-chair of the transition team for the incoming governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer. In 2008, he was asked by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to consider running for mayor in 2009. Parsons turned down the offer, and Mayor Bloomberg engineered the reversal of a city term limits law so he could run again himself while Parsons went on to join Barack Obama's transition team's Economic Advisory Board in 2008 before being named Citigroup chairman in 2009.

Currently, Parsons lives in New York and owns a 20-acre vineyard in Tuscany. According to Better Chance president Sandra Timmons, as quoted by Hispanic PRWire, "Richard Parsons serves as a role model for aspiring executives of all races, but his success has earned him a special leadership role among African Americans."

Richard Parsons, we acknowledge your years of leadership in business, and we honor your vast contributions.

*Source, time.com, notablebiographies.com


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