Tribune Company CEO Dennis FitzSimons announced that he will exit the end of this month as the company goes private. There is no official word yet on who will be the key executives as Sam Zell becomes Chairman, but the Wall Street Journal reported that Randy Michaels will have some role at Tribune. The Chicago Tribune then reported that Zell himself might assume the CEO title, with Michaels heading the broadcast and Internet operations at Tribune. Michaels was CEO of Jacor Communications, the only previous media investment (and a profitable one) by Zell. He is currently CEO of Local TV LLC.
Zell had earlier indicated that closing on the final phase of the two-step buyout was expected today, but that schedule may not be met. The Chicago Tribune reported that some of the banks involved in the deal were uneasy, fearing they would not be able to resell the debt in the current tight credit market.
In the company announcement of the change at the top, FitzSimons and Zell had glowing quotes to offer about each other.
"Sam Zell is an entrepreneur with a phenomenal track record. He has made a significant investment in Tribune that indicates his strong belief in the value of the company’s media assets. It was Sam’s creativity, personal commitment and investment that made this transaction possible," said FitzSimons.
"Dennis FitzSimons has provided Tribune with outstanding leadership through a challenging environment," said Zell. "He helped build the company into one of the nation’s premier media businesses, and has been instrumental in guiding Tribune to the closing of this historic transaction. I wish him much success in the next phase of his career," said Zell.
TVBR observation: It would be unusual, but not unthinkable, for Randy Michaels to hold major jobs at both companies. Local TV has bid on other things, but to date only owns the nine TV stations it bought from the New York Times Company. Besides, he has Bobby Lawrence as President and COO to run the operation on a day to day basis. We know that Randy had been visiting the Tribune properties, as we expected, to advise Zell. Who else would he turn to for advice on a media transaction? Now we wait to find out if Sam and Randy can work their magic again at Tribune and put it back on track as they did at Jacor.