AOL chief: Son's murder behind decision to resign

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The Independent Online

When his son was murdered four years ago, Gerald Levin quietly inserted a clause into his employment contract that allowed him to leave his job with the world's biggest media company, as long as he gave six months notice.

On Wednesday, Mr Levin invoked the clause, announcing that he was to step down as chief executive of AOL Time Warner. He said he was leaving perhaps to write a book or to perform with his local amateur dramatics group.

Some in the industry were surprised by the multimillionaire's decision. But those who knew him said he was following a plan that had been four years in the making. The final push came with the events of 11 September which – for him, like so many others – put into perspective the things that really mattered.

Mr Levin told The New York Times: "11 September, I know has affected everybody. It's affected me very deeply because of the sudden violent death. It tears my heart out to see these widows and children.

"It's very hard to articulate, but these emotions have a lot to do with what I thought I was doing by having this provision. It's a sacred provision for me. I put it in because of my son."

Mr Levin, 62, a top corporate executive for more than 30 years, will be remembered as a driving force in the transformation of Time Inc which he joined in 1972. The business has been turned into a multimedia giant after joining Warner Communications, acquiring Ted Turner's cable network and merging with the internet provider America Online (AOL).

The $106bn (£74bn) deal to merge AOL and Time Warner was announced in January last year, even though the negotiations took another year to complete. It brought together the world's largest online service and a huge media company, with properties such as the cable network CNN, the pay-per-view channel Home Box Office, Warner Bros film studio and magazine titles such as Time and People.

But Mr Levin's love of the cut and thrust of the business world was put into perspective by the death of his son, Jonathan, who taught English at a high school in the Bronx, New York. It was after his son was stabbed to death by a former student that he inserted the clause into his contract.

Mr Levin wrote in an e-mail to employees: "I felt that once my work was completed and I was satisfied with the company's direction and progress, I'd invoke that provision and turn my full energies to the moral and social issues I feel so passionate about. That time has arrived."

Mr Levin, who will be replaced by the company's chief operating officer, Richard Parsons, next May, has recently made a number of philanthropic donations including the establishment of college scholarships and a $10m donation to the National Cable Television Centre and Museum, all in his son's name. He and his wife, Barbara, have also helped restore the theatre in their home town of Dorset, Vermont.

"I might be a player in the Dorset theatre," he said. "We're supposed to be suits here who run corporations for 30 years, but inside I am a creative person. There may be things I want to write and make.

"It's an intensely personal decision. I'm taking a risk, because tomorrow nobody will return my calls."