Jeff Bewkes, the 64-year-old CEO of Time Warner Corporation, in Saturday presided over the sale of the massive multimedia company to telecom giant AT&T in a massive mega-merger reportedly worth more than $80 billion. The deal comes about two years after Bewkes spurned an offer also in the $80 billion range to sell to Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox.
Here’s what you need to know about Bewkes and why he finally pulled the trigger on unloading Time Warner.
1. He Took Over Time Warner in 2008 and Started Laying Off Employees
Bewkes, a New Jersey native and Yale University grad, took over at Time Warner CEO at the beginning of 2008, and a year later was named chairman of the company’s board. Later in 2009, he began streamlining the company, starting with layoffs of about 10 percent of the workforce — roughly 800 people — from the company’s crown jewel, Warner Bros Studios, the Hollywood film factory that just the previous year scored a billion-dollar box office hit with the Batman epic, The Dark Knight.
In 2014, after he rejected the merger with Fox, Bewkes announced plans to slash about 10 percent of the workforce at Time Warner-owned Turner Broadcasting, or nearly 1,500 people, including 300 from cable news giant CNN even though the channel was making money and looked ready to turn a $1 billion profit by the end of 2017. The move was seen by employees as a move by Bewkes to rebuild his credibility with Wall Street shareholders who were disappointed in him for rebuffing Murdoch’s bid.
2. He is the 27th Highest Paid CEO in America
Wile the total amount of Bewkes’ personal net worth remains foggy, his salary in 2015 of $31,493,211 made him the country’s 27th-highest-paid corporate chief executive officer, according to data released by the AFL-CIO labor union. That salary was a big step up from just three years earlier when, according to Forbes Magazine, he was paid a mere $19.79 million, placing him 62nd on the CEO pay list.
However, the sale of the company could provide an extraordinary windfall for Bewkes, personally. In 2014, the Hollywood business news site The Wrap reported that Bewkes would have seen a personal payoff of $79 million in stocks and other compensation if he had taken the deal. Two years later, he likely stands to do even better.
3. Bewkes Becomes the Man Who Sold Batman
Even if the Time Warner-AT&T deal is given the go-ahead by both companies as expected, federal regulators must still give their thumbs-up, and that could take months. But once the deal goes through, the phone company — which expanded into broadcasting with last year’s buyout of satellite TV giant DirecTV — takes over some of most iconic and profitable characters in American popular culture.
That’s because in addition to pay cable leader HBO and cable news juggernaut CNN, Time Warner owns DC Comics — the comic book publisher that controls such superhero characters as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Arrow and dozens more.
More specifically, DC Comics, which was recently folded into a new company known as DC Entertainment, is owned by Warner Bros Studios, and has been since 1969, when funeral parlor impresario Steve Ross purchased Warner Bros for $400 million, renaming it Warner Communications. Ross, a visionary with an eye on creating a multimedia empire, had earlier purchased DC Comics, which then came under the Warner Entertainment tent.
4. Bewkes Earlier Unloaded The Company’s Publishing, Including Time Magazine
When Ross merged his Warner Communications with venerable magazine and book publisher Time Inc. in 1991, the Time Warner Corporation came into being as one of the world’s largest media conglomerates. But by the time Bewkes took over 17 years later, the publishing business was seen as a drag on the company’s profits.
After a failed attempt to sell Time Inc. and its respected but struggling flagship, the weekly newsmagazine Time, to Meredith Corporation — a Des Moines, Iowa, publisher — Bewkes simply cut Time Inc. loose at the end of 2013, spinning the publisher off into its own, publicly traded company.
Though also a publisher, DC Comics — as part of the Warner movie studio rather than Time Inc. — was not part of the spinoff.
5. Just Four Months Ago, Bewkes Said That Time Warner Would Not Sell Out
About two years after his controversial rejection of the Rupert Murdoch takeover bid for Time Warner, in June of this year, Bewkes gave an interview to the Hollywood trade publication Variety in which he said that he felt no need for Time Warner to sell out or merge with another corporate entity.
“We have the brands, we have the money, we have the distribution platform support, and we have the program supply. We have better access to movies and TV shows than any other company probably other than Disney. We can use our scale together, or not, and that balance is one of the biggest advantages of our company,” Bewkes said, asserting that the company’s three major and often at-odds subsidiaries including HBO — where Bewkes was once president — Warner Bros and Turner were finally ready to work together.
But Variety also cited investors who saw the situation differently, believing that in order to survive in a media environment being rapidly altered by new delivery systems such as the internet and consumer patterns like “cord cutting” — rejecting cable or satellite TV altogether in favor of relying solely on online entertainment and news sources — Bewkes had already missed his chance to build the company into an entity that would survive the rigors of the coming decades.
One of Time Warner’s chief competitors, Disney, had already made a series of bold acquisitions including the Star Wars parent company Lucasfilm and the Marvel Comics and film empire.
“They have been too timid,” one investor told the magazine. “It’s like [Jeff] has given up trying to build the company.”