Richard Parsons is the new face of the struggling, bailout-needy Citigroup. The former CEO of Time Warner Inc. (TIME's parent company) became Citi's Chairman just days after the company announced an $8.3 billion fourth-quarter loss its fifth quarterly loss in a row and revealed that it would separate its retail banking business from the risky assets dragging it down. Citi may be taking on water faster than it can dump it out, but Parsons is no stranger to financial struggle. When he took over AOL Time Warner in 2003, the media conglomerate was $27 billion in debt and the Securities & Exchange Commission had taken a keen interest in America Online's premerger accounting practices basically, the company was the Wall Street equivalent of the dorky kid whom nobody sat next to at lunch. Parsons had some success at Time Warner he removed 'AOL' from the company's name and streamlined its business practices but by the time he stepped down in 2008 the media behemoth was still saddled with underperforming departments and a stagnant share price. The question now is, what can he do for Citi? (See the best business deals of 2008.)
Richard Dean Parsons was born April 4, 1948 in Brooklyn to Lorenzo Locklair Parsons and the former Isabelle Judd; he was one of five children. Parsons was raised in South Ozone Park, Queens, where he watched Fourth of July fireworks provided by the Gotti crime family and once 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 the 6'4" Parsons enrolled at the University of Hawaii 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 had grown up there.
Met his future wife, Laura Ann Bush, at Hawaii; 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. The couple have three children.
In 1971 he began his career as legal counsel to New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, following that up with a position as managing partner of the New York law firm Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler.
A former Rockefeller aide, Harry W. Albright Jr., recruited Parsons in 1988 to serve as chief operating officer of the Dime Bank, one of the largest thrift institutions in the United States.
Parsons joined Time Warner as president in 1995, becoming CEO in 2002 a position he held until 2007. As a member of the company's board since 1991, he was named chairman in 2003 and remained until 2008. Parsons was instrumental in the now defunct AOL-Time Warner merger.
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 Museum of Modern Art, Citigroup and Estée Lauder.
Parsons, a moderate Republican who campaigned for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 1989 (and worked alongside him at his law firm), 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. In 2008 he joined the Obama transition team's Economic Advisory Board before being named Citigroup chairman.
Parsons lives in New York and owns a 20-acre vineyard in Tuscany. 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.
"I am not a particularly ambitious person, believe it or not, and I am certainly not a driven person. I am a hard worker I was always told by my parents that luck was the residue of hard work."
Change Nation podcast, Mar. 18, 2008
"I was a middle child. I grew up in Brooklyn with three sisters and a brother. You know what that means: everybody is constantly fighting with everybody and you are in the middle of the storm trying to make peace. That is your life. Making everybody work and play well together."
The Sunday Independent, Dec. 5, 2004
"We were sort of two Young Turks and in those days. Rudy used to like to party and so did I. And so we would keep everybody at the firm until all hours of the night and then we would go to Les Oubliettes or someplace and dance the night away."
On life with his law firm colleague Rudy Giuliani, New York Times, Dec. 9, 2001
"At the end of the day, you've got to kick some people in the ass."
CNET News.com, April 3, 2002
"He's one of the few people in this industry that I would just as soon have a shake-hand deal with as a legal contract."
Rupert Murdoch, News Corporation chairman, New York Times, Dec. 9, 2001
"Dick is a nice guy, but if that's all he was, he'd already be in the library under 'History.' Dick shows you what he wants you to see, and the part of him you don't often see is his assertive, unwavering killer instinct ... There's nothing else on Dick's mind but winning."
John O. Utendahl, a Wall Street investment banker and a close friend, BusinessWeek, May 19, 2003
"He is a persuader, not a dictator. People do things for Dick because he persuaded them to, not because he ordered them to. He intellectualizes outcomes and gets people to agree with his outcomes."
Leo Hindery Jr., CEO of The YES Network, CNET, Apr. 3, 2002
"Never going to happen. If you met him in the last few years of his tenure as CEO of Time Warner, you'd know the reason: he doesn't want to work that hard. Those New York business leaders who are trying to convince him to follow in the footsteps of Michael Bloomberg need to find another horse to ride."
Joe Nocera of the New York Times, July 11, 2008, on the odds of Parsons becoming mayor of New York City