Tribune Media CEO Peter Liguori said this morning that he will step down in March, ending the effort he began four years ago to take a publishing and TV company that had just emerged from bankruptcy protection and turn it into what he initially called a “165-year-old startup” built on TV production and distribution.
Liguori will leave his position, and the Tribune board, after it releases its Q4 earnings, expected in the first week of March. The board has hired search firm Korn Ferry to help find a successor.
Board member Peter Kern, of private equity firm InterMedia Partners, will serve as interim CEO when Liguori steps down.
“Following the successful completion of several financial, strategic and creative initiatives, culminating in the pending sale of Gracenote, Tribune Media is well advanced in its transformation to a more focused broadcast and cable networks company,” Liguori says. “I believe that now is the ideal time for a new leader to steer today’s Tribune. As curious and excited as I am about pursuing new opportunities, I am equally grateful for the achievements, commitment and integrity of this company’s management team and its dedicated employees.”
But board chairman Bruce Karsh says that it was also clear to company directors that “in this last year of his contract it was time to find a new CEO to run the more broadcast-centric company.”
But a Tribune spokesman says that the change “is totally separate and independent” adding: “Nothing in today’s announcement is relevant to Sony’s recent announcement for Michael Lynton.”
A termination agreement, signed yesterday, will allow Liguori to leave for what his contract deems as “good reason,” Tribune says in an SEC filing. They also agreed to limit his non-compete obligations “to reflect changes in the Company’s business since January 1, 2016.”
Tribune spun off its newspaper publishing operation — which includes the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune — in 2014. That followed the a $2.7 billion acquisition of Local TV in 2013, which brought 19 stations to lift Tribune’s total to 42.
Tribune also owns WGN America, Tribune Studios, several digital applications and sites, and multicast networks Antenna TV and This TV.
Still, the company needed cash; it had $3.5 billion of outstanding debt at the end of September, or $2.8 billion net of cash. Early last year Tribune hired two financial advisers, Moelis & Co and Guggenheim Securities, to “explore the full range of strategic and financial alternatives to enhance shareholder value.”
That led to the sale of about $500 million in real estate and the pending sale of the Gracenote metadata business to Nielsen for approximately $560 million.
Wall Street remained cool to Tribune. When it announced the Gracenote deal, the company said it would pay a special dividend of $500 million to shareholders and warrantholders in Q1. It added that it will continue repurchasing shares with $168 million remaining in the $400 million authorization earlier this year.
In a memo to staffers today, Liguori says that Tribune is “a streamlined broadcast company, more sharply focused than ever before and poised to seize the right opportunities in the constantly evolving media landscape. Clearly, my work here is done. I am at peace with my decision and excited to see a new CEO lead the company to its best future….It is with a mix of great excitement over what the future holds for me and a sense of melancholy for what I am leaving behind, that I’ll be moving on to the next challenge.”
Here’s the complete text:
I have some news I want to share with all of you. I have decided to step down as the company’s President and CEO in the first week of March. As the board begins the search for your new CEO, Peter Kern will take over as interim CEO. Peter is a current board member and has more than 25 years of experience as a media executive, investor and advisor. (We issued the attached press release a few moments ago.)
In looking back at my time at Tribune, all I can say is: “What a terrific ride we’ve had together.”
During the last four years, we’ve successfully transformed Tribune Media into a modern broadcast and digital media company operating 42 local television stations, a growing cable entertainment network in WGN America, and a variety of digital applications and websites generating more than 60 million monthly unique visitors online.
We gave our newspaper business its independence and a fresh start. Listed the company’s stock on the NYSE. Built a powerhouse station group with the acquisition of Local TV. Took the hidden gem of Tribune Media Services and teamed it with Gracenote to form the global leader in video, music, sports and entertainment metadata. And we rebuilt WGNA into a surging cable network known for quality, noisy and daring original programming. Above all, we served our shareholders, returning to them nearly $2.5 billion in cash while growing Tribune’s enterprise and competitive value.
For me, there has never been a dull moment. It all started ominously enough. On my very first day, an LAPD officer ticketed me for J-walking as I was crossing a street to meet with the board for the first time. Since then, I’ve legally crossed many streets all over the nation to visit our outstanding station teams, presented and screened “Underground” at the White House, and saw Vin Scully call his final game on KTLA.
Please know, I marvel at your dedication. With zeal and purpose, you serve our audiences, represent our communities and respectfully elevate the reporting profession with outstanding daily news….real news, sourced news, researched news. Your work and toil will only increase in importance as the times ahead get more challenging. It’s been a humbling honor to be your teammate and I thank you for that privilege.
Thanks to your collective efforts, the Tribune Media of today is a streamlined broadcast company, more sharply focused than ever before and poised to seize the right opportunities in the constantly evolving media landscape. Clearly, my work here is done. I am at peace with my decision and excited to see a new CEO lead the company to its best future.
I want to thank Larry for his operational leadership, Dana for her indomitable drive to deliver the highest value for our programming, Josh for digitizing our days, Gary for guarding Tribune’s mission, and Matt for brilliantly making the impossible possible.
Of course, I also want to thank Eddie and Chandler.
For almost 40 years, I have witnessed Eddie’s unparalleled IQ, EQ, and integrity. During our years at Tribune, he has proven himself to be an outstanding strategist, leader, partner and empathetic friend. With Chandler, since Day One I’ve felt that in partnering with him I was somehow working with Tribune’s breathing history. Chandler channels the spirit of Joseph Medill and Colonel McCormick. There is no one in Tribune’s halls who respects, honors and cares for this company and its employees more than he.
I am heartened that I leave you in capable hands. I know Peter will undoubtedly rely upon and benefit from the great team he has around him and each and every one of you.
It is with a mix of great excitement over what the future holds for me and a sense of melancholy for what I am leaving behind, that I’ll be moving on to the next challenge. Let’s plan to talk more at a company-wide town hall tomorrow afternoon at 2 pm ET, 1 pm CT. I’ll be happy to answer your questions.
Stay hungry. Stay together and, above all, stay on the sidewalk until the flashing red hand turns green.
Give ’em hell,