Wednesday, October 12, 2005

TO THE END OF TIME

Time magazine is still one of today's most influential magazines. Its beginnings is as interesting and as exciting as the stories that are featured in its weekly pages. It's time that this tale about the origins of Time be told.



IN the beginning of Time was Henry Luce. The founder. The lord and master
of all that was in print in Time Incorporated.
Time began as a figment of one man's imagination. From dream to reality
were several long deliberate steps undertaken by Luce. Once Time Inc. had
become as American as apple pie, it laid the foundation for its destiny
that would form in part the 20th Century history of the American media.
Richard Clurman, a former Time chief of correspondents who walked and
stalked the esteemed corridors of Time Inc. for 20 years, has returned to
plough through the machinations and corporate manoeuvrings of one of
America's premier print institutions.
He began to do so in earnest in 1989. That was when the media masters in
Time Inc. met the newsmakers of Warner Communications. Time was ripe for
expansion. In its hallowed boardroom, executive thoughts abounded of
opening new vistas and discovering new horizons. Over at Warner where the
Hollywood spotlight never dims, Steve Ross the head honcho cast his eyes
over the plains of Time. He liked what he saw.
Thus began one of Wall Street's most-talked-about corporate courtships
that ended in the marriage of Time Inc. and Warner Communications,
producing Time Warner.
To The End of Time traces the beginning, the making and the
not-the-end-yet of this colossal merger. In his quest for facts, knowledge
and undoubtedly some gossip too, Clurman encountered nascent reluctance to
divulge information from insiders who were duty-bound to maintain some
discreet silence.
Clurman's colleagues, former Time staff, eventually were compelled and
allowed to reveal some delectable anecdotes concerning the boardroom tango
in which key participants, like Time president Nicholas J. Nicholas Jr,
Time chairman Dick Munro, Warner boss Steve Ross, Time Vice-Chairman
Gerald Levin, danced to some fabulous pecuniary tunes.
Clurman's tale reads like a Hollywood script. Time Inc. metaphorically the
bride is tradition-bound, conservative and champion of the freedom of
speech and seeker of truth. Warner the bridegroom is a trend-setter,
go-getter whose friends, in this case clients, include some of Hollywood's
biggest names (Clint Eastwood, Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg). Warner
deals with music, singers and hit movies (like Batman and Chariots of
Fire). Warner is Hollywood personified.
The essence of the Time Inc.-Warner merger (now in its third year) which
Richard Clurman has successfully encased and conveyed is that Steve Ross
has emerged stronger, richer and definitely a winner.
The contractual agreement on the Time Warner merger covers more than 273
pages involving a generous display of fine print which has made the top
brass of both corporations very rich. If before, some of them had
millions, now they have added a few more very meaningful zeroes to their
pay cheques.
On Time's side, way downstream, employees receive a somewhat
less-than-fair deal. Bluntly, in Hollywood parlance, "they have been had".
Ross, street-wise entrepreneur extraordinaire and financial buccaneer, has
skilfully bargained, obtained, signed, sealed and delivered the loot to
the wannabees working and striving in the kingdom of Warner. The bottom
line, or in this case, the punch line is "Yeah baby! We have got it, we
made it happen".
It is a story of lost dreams of hardcore journalists. Those who couldn't
live without journalistic honour found that it is not a shame to depart
quietly. Since then, many who matter, whose bylines had drawn readers,
have left to seek peace of mind. Then there are some who discharged
themselves simply because they refused to wallow in an atmosphere of
uncertainty, of dreams lost and principles forgotten.
For those readers who have more than an inkling of stock options, bonuses
and white knights, Clurman has spun an interesting yarn of how to take
over your neighbour's goods with some devious efforts.
The immediate consequence of the creation of Time Warner was also the
germination of a US$11.2 billion debt. How that happened is a matter of
arithmatic that stockbrokers should be well versed with. (To date, the
debt has been narrowed to about US$8 billion).
Clurman's journalistic writing reduces the tedium of deciphering Wall
Street officialese that would otherwise have given readers an indigestion.
So it is of little surprise that this ex-correspondent chief has done his
former employer proud by going for the jugular when the situation demands
graphic accounts of what transpired.
There are some well illustrated accounts of the Time-honoured tradition of
harmony between the "Church" and the "State". The Church in this case are
the editors and the State the administrators. The no-interference policy
laid down by founder Henry Luce is to be a supposedly unbreakable pact
engraved in the unwritten constitution of Time Inc. which maintains a very
robust stable of publications like Sports Illustrated, Fortune, Life and
People.
Students who wish to learn more about corporate raiders, greenmailers,
acquisition consultants, tender offers, debt financing, and maybe a little
more about Michael Milken (now in jail) and Donald Trump (ex-billionaire)
may desire to take a peek at To The End of Time. It offers an insightful
glimpse into the making of what now can be called The Empire.
Clurman's last words foretell of something askew in Time Warner's
turbulent world and hint of forebodings that may surface in time to come.

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