Behind The Possible Departure Of Tribune’s Chief Exec Randy Michaels
Tribune Co.’s board is preparing for the possible departure of embattled Chief Executive Randy Michaels, sources close to the situation said, and will explore his fate at a board meeting Tuesday.
The sources said it was probable the board would conclude that Michaels had been too tarnished by the recent resignation of Lee Abrams, one of his top lieutenants, as well as a critical front-page New York Times story, to continue his tenure. A source said the board had discussed succession issues and a separation agreement for Michaels. The move would come just days after the resignation of Abrams, Michaels’ controversial chief innovation officer, who caused an uproar at the company when he sent all employees an e-mail containing a link to a video deemed highly inappropriate because of its sexual content.
Mr. Michaels became chief executive of Tribune in December, about two years after joining the company as an executive vice president in charge of the company’s broadcasting and interactive businesses. Prior to Tribune, Mr. Michaels had a long and lucrative career in the radio industry, having worked for Jacor Communications and Clear Channel Communications. Jacor was owned and eventually sold by Sam Zell, the Chicago real estate magnate who bought Tribune in 2007.
Tribune, which publishes The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times and operates several television stations, filed for bankruptcy in December 2008, less than a year after the company was acquired by Mr. Zell, the Chicago real estate tycoon, for $8.2 billion. After that deal, the company sold Newsday to Cablevision for more than $600 million, and the Chicago Cubs to the Ricketts family, the founders of the online brokerage Ameritrade, for more than $800 million, to pay down debt.
The company remains mired in bankruptcy court in Delaware, with legal fees now over $180 million, but it said last week it had reached a tentative deal with a group of lenders. Some major creditors remain absent from a pact that would end the company’s Chapter 11 proceedings, however.
Mr. Michaels, born Benjamin Homel, began his broadcast career as an engineer at his college radio station at the State University of New York at Fredonia in the early 1970s. In 1975, he went commercial, joining the Taft Broadcasting Company’s radio and television operations in Buffalo and taking on his disc jockey alias. In 1983, Mr. Michaels moved with Taft to Cincinnati, where the broadcasting company was based. He met Robert Lawrence, and the two broadcasters teamed up and started Seven Hills Communications, which later became Republic Broadcasting.
Jacor acquired Republic in 1986, with Mr. Michaels assuming the position as vice president of programming and co-chief operating officer. He was named president and chief operating officer after Mr. Zell acquired the company in 1993. Mr. Michaels was named chief executive three years later.
Clear Channel Communications acquired Jacor in 1999, and Mr. Michaels became Clear Channel’s division president and later, chief executive; he was pushed out in 2002, in part because of concerns over lawsuits and workplace issues.11