Yalies are no strangers to Fortune 500 corner offices. This month, Jeff Bewkes ’74 joined the ranks of Yale CEOs when he took the helm of Time Warner, one of the largest media corporations in the world.
Bewkes’ ascent was hardly a surprise — to classmates, analysts and even University President Richard Levin. Observers said Bewkes, long considered Time Warner’s anointed dauphin, has the skills that recommend him as a leader.
Now Bewkes, who was named the new CEO in November and officially took over Jan. 2, has his work cut out for him. The company, though known for its resilience in a constantly evolving field, has seen better days. Its stock has lost nearly a third of its value in the last year. Still, now that Bewkes has taken the reins, the company has new opportunities for growth, and some observers say Bewkes’ appointment is particularly timely.
A member of the Yale Corporation since 2006, Bewkes has long been the “logical” choice for the position of CEO, Barrington Research analyst Jim Goss said.
“It was a matter of time,” he said. “It wasn’t whether it would be him — it was when he would take over.”
Bewkes — the heir apparent, who served as a top executive at Time Warner before becoming CEO — could reinvigorate the media giant, Goss said.
After serving as the head of HBO from 1995 to 2002, Bewkes oversaw the entertainment and networks group of the company, and in 2005 he became COO and president of Time Warner. Goss said Bewkes has had a strong leadership path at the company and has been making his presence felt in recent meetings — making it apparent that he wants to take a fresh look at the way the company works.
In an interview with the News, Bewkes declined to discuss any specifics regarding his role in the company and future leadership decisions he is considering.
Bewkes credited Yale with helping to make him into a leader. He said the University does an incredible job facilitating interactions among students. Yalies are not only motivated but also bring together a diverse array of ideas from which their peers can benefit, he said.
“When you’re at Yale, you see a much wider set of alternatives, and you learn a lot of different points of view,” he said. “It’s a very enriching thing, to be able to go through life with that experience … that you form at Yale.”
Despite the added responsibilities of his new role at Time Warner, Bewkes said he plans to maintain the same level of involvement in the Yale Corporation as in the past. Levin said Bewkes’ experience in the creative side of the industry is complemented by strong observational skills.
“As a fellow on the Corporation only in his second year, it didn’t take him very long at all to figure things out,” he said. “He’s just very sharp and very perceptive about organizations and how they work and about leadership.”
One of Bewkes’ high-school and college classmates said he was a natural leader from a young age. As editor of his high-school yearbook, he applied his keen sense of organizational leadership to produce the yearbook, said Bewkes’s fellow staff member and high-school friend, David Mayer ’74.
In high school, Bewkes thrived on his strong intellect, leadership skills and organizational abilities, Mayer said. But he had something more — something especially rare.
“He’s got a confidence in his own intelligence,” Mayer said. “He wasn’t afraid of saying what he thought or just letting his thoughts be known.”
Asked what advice he had for Yale students, Bewkes had a quick answer.
“Trial and error, and don’t leave out the error part. You try things — and you find out what you like, what you don’t like.”