Hoffman, who is Black, told the company that conflicts of interest had arisen which would have prevented him from serving on the board of the local TV station owner. But he also said he did not feel comfortable joining the board in light of the 2014 incident involving CEO Dave Lougee. Following an industry luncheon at which they were seated together and had a conversation, Lougee, who is white, mistook Hoffman for a hotel car valet. Hoffman was “understandably offended,” Tegna said in a letter posted to its website.
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The Wall Street Journal reviewed a statement from Hoffman that was sent to the Tegna board. It included more damning details from the former Federal Communications Commission official. According to the statement, Lougee handed Hoffman something he initially assumed was his business card, but it was actually a valet ticket. “Oh, I understand,” Hoffman recalled saying. “You saw a brown man in a business suit, and you thought he was the valet? So you want me to go get your car?”
In a statement provided to Deadline, Hoffman said the incident “was unlike any I have had before or since and has indelibly influenced my view of Mr. Lougee.”
After Hoffman notified Tegna last week of his withdrawal, the company initiated a multi-part response. It said Lougee “immediately acknowledged the incident and has stated that he made a mistake, for which he had apologized immediately at the time.”
Based in Washington, Hoffman is an attorney, advisory counsel, media expert, and independent corporate director. He was one of four prospective board members put forward by Standard General, which has a 9% stake in Tegna.
Spun off years ago from Gannett’s publishing assets, Tegna competes in a sector that has seen a burst of M&A activity. Groups like Tribune and Raycom have been swallowed up in deals worth billions in recent years. Standard General believes Tegna should have more carefully considered recent overtures from potential buyers. Rival Gray Television and private equity firm Apollo Global Management are among those who made offers to buy Tegna, whose management team has asserted that it has scrutinized all offers.
Tegna said its board approached the 2014 incident involving Lougee “with utmost seriousness,” hiring an outside law firm with no prior ties to the company to review the matter.
Lougee also sent a memo to Tegna employees (read it in full below). He repeated his apology and also highlighted the company’s commitment to inclusion and diversity. “I hope my mistake doesn’t make you doubt my sincerity or that of the entire leadership team in our strong focus on improving diversity and inclusion at Tegna,” he wrote.
About 37% of Tegna’s new hires last year were people of color, the company said, and 25% of its 6,427 employees were people of color as of the end of 2020.
Hoffman’s exit from the Tegna board discussion casts a spotlight again on the ongoing issue of board diversity. In 2020, the nationwide protests against racial injustice, on the heels of the #MeToo movement increased scrutiny of corporate boards, which remain largely white and male.
Here is Lougee’s full internal memo:
I want to address an incident from 2014 that is likely to be in the media.
As you may know, a Tegna shareholder has nominated candidates to serve on our
Board of Directors. One candidate, Adonis Hoffman, recently withdrew his candidacy due to what he said were conflicts of interest, but he also cited a 2014 incident with me that took place following an industry event.
It’s important that you hear from me what happened. As I was leaving the event and looking for my car, I ran into Mr. Hoffman and mistakenly thought he was a hotel valet. Mr. Hoffman was understandably offended and upset. I immediately apologized to him and felt terrible. I don’t condone racism of any kind, I take full responsibility for this mistake, and am truly sorry for the pain I caused Mr. Hoffman.
As we have made clear on numerous occasions, our Board and management team
have made it a corporate priority — and I have made it a personal priority — to further strengthen our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This unfortunate incident underscores just how important this work is for all of us. Tegna has taken specific actions to ensure our people, content, and company reflect the communities we serve, and we have established numerical goals to drive continuous improvement in the years ahead. More information is available in Tegna’s 2020 Social Responsibility Highlights.
As this report shows, we are making important progress but there is so much more to be done.
Again, I wanted you to hear this directly from me. I hope my mistake doesn’t make you doubt my sincerity or that of the entire leadership team in our strong focus on improving diversity and inclusion at Tegna.
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