By SETH SUTEL, AP BUSINESS WRITER -- Ted Turner, the mercurial media visionary who founded CNN, said Friday that he wouldn't seek re-election to the board of Time Warner Inc.
Turner, who is 67, became a director of Time Warner in 1996 when the media conglomerate bought his cable networks company Turner Broadcasting Systems. He long held a prominent role in guiding Time Warner's affairs, but in recent years complained of being sidelined.
Turner has increasingly turned his time and energy toward philanthropic efforts, which include overseeing an eponymous environmental foundation and his large land holdings. At 1.7 million acres, these make him the largest individual property owner in the United States.
Turner is also chairman of the United Nations Foundation, which he started with a $1 billion pledge to the agency in 1997, and co-chairs the Nuclear Threat Initiative with former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia. He also owns a rapidly expanding restaurant chain called Ted's Montana Grill, which specializes in serving bison meat.
Phillip Evans, a spokesman for Turner Enterprises, Turner's private holding company, said Turner has "indicated for some time that he's wanted to refocus his energies on activities outside Time Warner."
After initially embracing the company's ill-fated merger with America Online in 2000, Turner became disillusioned and complained publicly about being pushed aside in the company's hierarchy. In 2003, he relinquished his role as vice chairman.
Turner, whose bold pronouncements earned him the moniker "The Mouth of the South," has occasionally embarrassed Time Warner in the past, complaining that former CEO Gerald Levin had "fired" him and railing against media consolidation in an article in the Washington Monthly magazine called "My Beef With Big Media."
At one point Turner had also been known as "Captain Outrageous" from his days as the skipper of the winning America's Cup yacht race. He had also owned the Atlanta Braves baseball team, and even suited up once and managed the final game of the team's 17-game losing streak in 1977.
Turner said in a prepared statement that he was departing after "much deliberation" and wished the company "every success." Evans, the Turner Enterprises spokesman, said Turner would not be commenting further. Turner still owns 32 million shares of Time Warner stock, less than 1 percent of the company's outstanding shares.
Time Warner also announced that Carla A. Hills, a former U.S. trade representative, will step down from the board in accordance with the company's retirement policy, which requires directors to retire after they turn 72.
Last month, former AOL executive Miles Gilburne also said he would not seek re-election, leaving Time Warner with at least three spots to fill on its board at its annual company meeting, which is usually held in May. As of the beginning of the year, Time Warner had 14 directors.
As part of an agreement with dissident investor Carl Icahn, Time Warner has pledged to name two independent directors to its board, but that doesn't have to happen until July, company spokeswoman Susan Duffy said.
Duffy said the company would disclose the slate of directors chosen by its board's nominating committee in its next proxy statement, which will likely be filed in late March or early April. Gilburne, Turner and Hills have all said they would remain on the board until the next shareholders' meeting.
Ironically, Time Warner's next board meeting -- Turner's last -- will be held in Atlanta, the home base of CNN. Also, Ted's Montana Grill plans to open its first outlet in New York later this year -- in the Time-Life Building, home of Time Warner's Time Inc. publishing subsidiary.