Does change make the man? Or does the man make the change?
That was one of the things I contemplated when interviewing former Time Warner CEO Dick Parsons in an audio interview for my podcast, Change Nation. It was his first time really speaking openly since stepping down as CEO.
Having changed careers several times, Dick has an impressive "change resume"--from nearly becoming a pro basketball player and a jazz musician to working as a lawyer, a banker, a short stint in politics as an aide to President Ford and then moving to the world of media. Interestingly enough, he was quick to say that he "tolerates change" and also seeks it out. He then proceeded to tell me he was "not ambitious," which certainly merited a follow up question. What drives this man? He spoke of hard work, being "terribly competitive" and how luck and serendipity fit into his path.
When asked the hardest change he had to face, he told a touching story of when his oldest daughter was born with "multiple congenital anomalies" and what that was like as a parent. I later learned that his brother died fighting in Vietnam, another tragic life change and the reason he was not deployed in the army.
We moved onto his time at Time Warner, discussing the best changes he made during his tenure, such as stabilizing the two companies after a merger and restoring a sense of pride to the employees; what changes he still thinks the company needs to make; AOL's future; and what he told Jeff Bewkes, his successor, when the changeover happened. Dick's optimism about the company, the media and the web was very clear.
I also had the opportunity to ask him how he was feeling since he left--what was hard, unexpected, fun and different, and what his days were like. We spoke about the craziest jobs he's been offered in the last few months, the rumors he's heard about what he will be doing next, including of course, the more famous one about his run for Mayor of New York. (No, he's not running--at least not any time soon). No interview with Dick would be complete without a passionate discourse on wine (red is his favorite), his treasured vineyard in Italy, his grandson Jack, who he is currently teaching to crawl, and what he really is planning to do in 2008. His personal themes: chilling out, reviewing his options, teaching and writing a book are on his top 10 list.
And, on change, Dick said, "Once you master a skill or get comfortable with a set of activities, and comfortable that you are succeeding at it, change brings about the potential for failure at whatever is next. And I guess my advice to, well, certainly CEOs, and to people in general, is to understand that change is inevitable. I don't even say change is good or change is bad; change is inevitable. Change just is. Understand that going in and don't fear failure."
So does change make Dick Parsons or did he make some changes? I guess its up to you to decide. Visit Change Nation to listen to this interesting and revealing interview, or read the highlights.