As lenders and bond holders sharpen knives to carve up Tribune Co., Chairman Sam Zell began exiting the operation Wednesday.
Almost a year after leading the Chicago-based media company into bankruptcy, Zell said he is giving up the title of chief executive officer. He is keeping the title of chairman. Tribune said Zell, 68, will “provide the management team with strategic oversight and vision.”
Tribune directors, at Zell’s recommendation, elevated Randy Michaels to CEO. Michaels, 57, led a vanguard of radio executives Zell brought in to run Tribune when he took it over in 2008 in a buyout greased with $13 billion in debt. Analysts say the executive shuffle is a prelude to Zell’s departure. Michaels, meanwhile, is trying to build the case for leading the company out of bankruptcy. The former head of radio station operator Jacor Communications and a onetime “shock jock,” Michaels has emphasized Tribune’s gradually improving finances. Some of that is from slight improvements in advertising and the rest from cost reductions.
“It would appear Zell is distancing himself from what has become an embarrassment to his reputation as a savvy investor,” said newspaper analyst John Morton, president of Morton Research Inc. More…