Levin: I'd Welcome Ted Back

Retiring AOL Time Warner Inc. CEO Gerald Levin acknowledged his "love-hate" relationship with Ted Turner last week, but said he felt only love for his company's vice chairman.

"I'm a symbol of the things that trouble Ted," Levin told reporters gathered at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles last Tuesday, a week after he disclosed plans to retire next May.

During a Nov. 27 Western Show appearance, Turner said he wished he had bought Time Warner Inc. and fired Levin, instead of selling Turner Broadcasting System Inc. to the media conglomerate and winding up with no real corporate power.

"He has a love-hate relationship with me, but I have a love relationship with him," said Levin, who added that he fought against the sale of naming rights to the Atlanta Braves' baseball stadium so it could be named in honor of Turner.

Levin also said he encouraged his successor, current co-chief operating officer Richard Parsons, to renew Turner's contract as vice chairman, which expires this month. Parsons has since praised Turner and said he believed the cable pioneer would stay on.

Levin also expressed confidence that AOL Time Warner's new management team balances the interests of the companies that merged to form it: America Online Inc. and Time Warner.

His quick assessment of his associates: Chairman Steve Case is "an essential player," Parsons is a "people person" and co-COO Bob Pittman is "the best operating executive in the business."

"No one person can run a company," Levin added.

Prior to the speech, sponsored by an organization called Town Hall Los Angeles, Levin described the current economic climate as the "worst advertising depression in my business experience." Anyone who projects a quick turnaround in that segment is practicing self-deception, he added.

Levin has said he wants to spend time working on social issues. In questions after his speech, he was asked about losing the clout he now wields as AOL Time Warner's CEO.

"No one may listen … but [the message] will have a certain purity to it," he said. "As long as I'm CEO, I'm seen as having a vested interest. I'd be exploiting my position too much.

"I've always been a risk-taker," Levin added. "One day I will wake up without all the trappings; you have to be secure in yourself. If you question yourself, 'Who am I and why am I here?' and if the answer is [that] you have a private plane, people make arrangements for you … you'll be very lonely.

"In a job like this, there are three ways to go out: you're fired, you die in office or you leave on your own terms. I've chosen the latter," he said, to applause.