Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Jury Still Out On Sam Zell

The jury is still out on Sam Zell. He is a hugely wealthy and successful businessman, with a great sense of humor, tends to shoot from the hip, and is always interesting. He seems to crave employee input, creative ideas, and "out of the box" thinking. See Sam's E-mail "Who's In Charge" below which seems to sum up his positive point of view.

That having been said, Sam did not include the union represented employees in the new ESOP that has his other, non-union employees owning Tribune. Sam says "You own this place now", but in reality, only some of us actually do.

In addition, even though the company is now 100 percent employee owned through the ESOP, there are no employee representatives on the board of directors. This means the employee owners actually have no real input or control of the company they supposedly own.

Finally, Tribune and Local TV, LLC have struck an agreement to create a third-party management company that will handle the back-office and administrative work for both company’s broadcast stations to realize significant savings in management, technology, and other overhead costs. The new company is designed to create efficiencies through pooled resources for both company’s combined 32 television stations. This sounds like outsourcing and layoffs to me.

Still, we need to give the guy a chance. Maybe he'll change his mind and include everyone in the ESOP. This would generate huge dividends in employee loyalty and solidarity.

Maybe he'll relent and let his employee owners elect a director or two and make his board of directors truly a representative governing body. This would create a giant increase in the trust between Tribune's leadership and the employees which is essential to the success of the company.

Only time will tell.


Bob: I keep getting Sam Zell related E mails from you--and--having no context (I don't work for Tribune) I can't figure out what your thrust is. In fact, I have no clue.

Is Sam Zell:
-A "Good Witch"?
-A "Bad Witch"?

-Not any witch at all:
He's Dorothy from Kansas.
He just landed in "Oz" (Tribune) from Kansas, and all the little [Tribune Employee] "Munchkins" are trying to figure out what the deal is, and what his house falling on Tribune portends?

Please provide (A brief) reply & explanation as to whether Zell is Good, Bad, or TBD. Thanks.

From:  Talk to Sam
Sent: Friday, February 08, 2008 8:44 AM
Subject: Who's in Charge?

I've been talking about change and a sense of urgency, and I'm
starting to see the messages get through. A reporter recently called
with a great revenue-generating idea, and my response was, "Terrific!
He gets it! It isn't 'everyone else' trying to generate revenue, he's
taken ownership."

But, often, when I hear an idea within Tribune, what follows doesn't
address how we can effectively evaluate its potential, or what our
next steps are to execute. It's invariably, "I don't want to offend
my boss."

So, who's in charge here anyway?

Well, I am. And I am not an absentee owner. Neither should you be.

Every day, you should ask yourself, "Am I testing my limits?"

I'm giving you a green light to ----

Pursue your ideas:

If you have something you believe will drive additional revenue, and
that carries limited risk, outline your idea, and bring it to your
business unit leader. You can send it to me as well.

Take ownership:

Put some thought into your idea outline. Who is the customer? Why do
you think it would be relevant? What are the risks involved? What are
the costs involved? What's the potential? How will we measure its

Have faith:

Our managers and business unit leaders are expected to listen to your
ideas, and to give them thoughtful consideration. I know; I'm holding
them accountable for doing so.


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