Sir Isaac Newton could see as far as he did, he said, because he stood on the shoulders of giants. Ted Turner, it seems, has footprints on either side of his neck, while the likes of Rupert Murdoch get to enjoy the view. Father of the 24-hour cable news industry, Turner is now on the sidelines with but a few billion dollars of his fortune left, no media company to call his own and only the memory of sharing a bed with movie star Jane Fonda.
Turner "feels like a dummy," he tells Bloomberg News, despite the fact that he's now "working on issues that are life or death for us," through his role as co-chair of the Nuclear Threat Initiative -- a job he shares with former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn. Once a media mogul, Turner has put the world of News Corp (NWS), Time Warner (TWX) and Viacom (VIA) behind him. Now, he's reinventing himself in the government policy arena and focusing on challenges of greater importance.
"War is obsolete," Turner says, referring to the demise of conventional conflicts and the now-quaint concept of surrender. "The last time someone surrendered was Japan, and that was 60 years ago."
Of course, this perspective conveniently overlooks Turner's own white flag, raised three years ago when he left the board of Time Warner, which had acquired his company, Turner Broadcasting System, in 1996. Five years after the buyout, he watched $7 billion of his wealth evaporate thanks to the ill-fated AOL merger. With $1.8 billion left, he ranks 196th on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans -- far below the perch he once occupied.
Though it's convenient enough to blame the Time Warner/AOL merger -- as many have over the past eight years --Turner does concede his own role in eroding the fortune he had amassed. The billionaire parted with his cash too easily, likening it to a joint: "you just pass it around, light it up, you know, share with your friends." The largest of his gifts was a $1 billion pledge to establish the United Nations Foundation back in 1997. Of that amount, he has already supplied $750 million, with the remainder currently set aside.
Sans media empire and having learned to live on something of a budget, Turner is far from out. His new company, Turner Enterprises, has 2 million acres of land across 12 states and Argentina, inhabited by more than 50,000 bison. Since the land is mostly purchased from energy companies, the sellers have held on to the rights to any coal, oil or natural gas found, though they would have to pay royalties to Turner. The value of the land has fallen, and Turner says he isn't ready to make another big buy. A realist, he does admit, "You can get by on a billion or two."