NEW YORK -- In a stunning announcement, Time Warner Inc. said yesterday that Chairman Steven J. Ross' designated successor, N.J. Nicholas Jr., had resigned and would be replaced by Gerald M. Levin, the vice chairman.
Many in the company said the resignation was a result of friction between Mr. Ross and Mr. Nicholas, the nation's highest-paid executives last year.
But it also marks the collapse of a succession agreement central to the 1990 merger of two corporate empires, Warner Communications and Time Inc., which formed the world's largest media company.
The company said that Mr. Levin, a veteran of Time Inc., would serve as the company's president and co-chief executive officer, the post that Mr. Nicholas formerly shared with Mr. Ross.
Mr. Ross, the former chief executive of Warner Communications, and Richard Munro, the former chairman of Time Inc., had agreed at the time of the merger that Mr. Nicholas would first share executive authority, then take charge by himself in the mid-1990s.
Although the company's statement said Mr. Nicholas resigned, the tone of a memo from Mr. Ross to employees indicated that there had been severe friction between them.
Several who know Mr. Nicholas said he had been intent on remaining with the company but had been forced out. According to one person at Time Warner, Mr. Nicholas was in Vail, Colo., and was asked to come back for the board meeting but chose LTC not to do so. The board approved the changes unanimously.
Mr. Ross, 64, has been undergoing intensive chemotherapy for prostate cancer. Since December he has rarely been at the office.