Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tribune Co. names Randy Michaels CEO; Sam Zell remains chairman

Randy Michaels today was named chief executive of Tribune Co., succeeding Sam Zell, who remains chairman of the Chicago-based media concern that has been operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for nearly a year.
Michaels, 57, joined Tribune Co.’s executive ranks when Zell took the company private in a debt-heavy December 2007 transaction, becoming its chief operating officer half a year later. With the elevation to CEO, Michaels also will join the Tribune Co. board.

The announcement came a day after a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge in Delaware extended until Feb. 28 Tribune Co.’s exclusive right to file a reorganization plan in its Chapter 11 case. That was one month earlier than the company has requested, but thwarted, at least temporarily, a group of senior creditors determined to assume control of the case by requesting the right to file their own plan.

A spokesman for Tribune Co., parent of the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, WGN-Ch. 9, WGN-AM 720 and assorted other newspaper, TV and digital assets around the country, said the promotion of Michaels did not require bankruptcy court approval.

Ultimately, Tribune Co.’s creditors will decide if Michaels and the rest of Zell’s team remain at the company. While the precise ownership structure of the post-Chapter 11 company is still being negotiated, a plan to swap Tribune's $13 billion debt burden for equity will give some combination of creditors ownership of the media conglomerate, erasing Zell's ownership position. The creditors will then pick their own board of directors and it will choose its a management team.

Sources close to the situation say it's still unclear how Michaels fits into the senior lenders' thinking.

Sam Zell, 68, in the announcement, said today's appointment was a reflection of Michaels’ increasing responsibilities. “At this point in Tribune’s evolution, no one is better suited to lead the company forward,” Zell said in his statement. “Randy has a unique combination of real-time creativity, expertise and passion, and I completely trust his judgment and his leadership.”
Michaels, who was born Benjamin Homel, got his start in media as a Buffalo radio engineer while still a teen-ager. He took on the name Randy Michaels for on-air work. He worked his way through the ranks of Taft Broadcasting as a programming executive, later helping launch Republic Broadcasting, which was acquired by Jacor in 1986.Zell invested in Jacor in 1993 and Michaels became its CEO in 1996, and together they went on an acquisition spree. Three years later, Clear Channel bought Jacor for $2.8 billion. Zell left radio, but Michaels stayed with Clear Channel to run its radio division. Michaels left Clear Channel in 2002.

Calling Tribune Co. “a great company with a great future,” Michaels said in today's announcement that: “There is a lot of work yet to do, but we have tremendously talented people and world-class brands in print, on air and online. Our businesses are profitable and we’re gaining market-share and momentum in a tough environment. The entire management team is focused on the long-term and keeping Tribune at the cutting-edge of creativity and innovation, which will translate into success on the bottom-line.”

Later, in a note to Tribune Co. employees, Zell noted the “seismic shift in Tribune’s focus and culture” over the last two years. “We’re moving in the right direction and into the new year with energy and optimism,” he wrote.

Chicago Tribune reporter Michael Oneal contributed to this report.

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