As Joe Ianniello prepares to make his inaugural appearance as CBS Corp’s interim CEO tomorrow on the company’s quarterly earnings call, the search for a permanent leader has intensified, both internally and externally.
While the former longtime COO is seen as a viable contender, the media company’s newly constituted board of directors has retained executive search firm Korn Ferry to help potentially fill the CEO slot, Deadline has confirmed. The search is expected to take four to six months, an insider says.
The move comes amid a rapid-fire series of executive appointments made by Ianniello, with the board deciding to bring in outside assistance as it continues a series of meetings with top CBS execs and division heads.
In those meetings, which have been ongoing as the board familiarizes itself with the company, a number of executives have complained of “a rising morale problem” at CBS in recent months as legal battles raged with controlling shareholder Shari Redstone over the future of the company. Anxieties arose before and after longtime CEO Les Moonves resigned September 9 following reports of multiple instances of sexual misconduct going back decades.
Concerns additionally heightened that Ianniello was and remains tainted by his long professional association with Moonves as the ex-CEO and chairman’s highly effective right-hand man for years. Furthermore, Ianniello has struck some on the company’s newly stocked board as lacking the right experience for the top job. An even more prevailing is a feeling that residual fallout from his deep participation with Moonves earlier this year in the lawsuit again Redstone and National Amusements continues.
Still, Ianniello remains well in the running for becoming permanent CEO, and Redstone has yet to reveal her hand. The situation is playing out as the quick exit of interim CBS board boss Richard Parsons came in the middle of more corporate musical-chairs moves and several other high-profile departures.
Among the top internal job candidates, much attention is being given to well-regarded Showtime executive David Nevins, who was given expanded responsibilities by Ianniello earlier this month in the newly created position of chief creative officer, where he now has oversight of programming across CBS Television Studios, the network’s entertainment division, Showtime, the CW and CBS All Access. The move has been characterized by some as a deft move by Ianniello of keeping your potential enemies closer. More broadly the appointment was seen as a confident acknowledge by the interim CEO that he lacks programming and creative experience that Nevins can provide as CBS moves into the immediate future.
Other names including former CBS Entertainment executives Nancy Tellem and Nina Tassler and Disney’s ex-COO Tom Staggs have been bandied about in recent weeks too, some more seriously than others. Among the top candidates right now, only Turner’s recently departed boss John Martin has actual CEO stripes.
CBS declined comment today on the matter when contacted by Deadline.
In the meantime, Thursday’s third-quarter earnings call does present Ianniello with a ready-made opportunity to showcase his overall deftness at running the company and keeping the stock healthy — together they could prove the Rubicon he must cross to the CEO job.
Ianniello already is a familiar fixture on CBS’ earnings calls, having been elevated to chief financial officer in 2009 with responsibility for the company’s financial strategy. He often played a supporting role to Moonves, who dominated investor calls with a swagger that came from transforming the network from basement-dweller to top-rated broadcast network for 10 consecutive years.
Uncertainty and uneasiness swirled among investors during CBS’ last earnings call in August, which Ianniello’s appointment to interim CEO in early September was intended to alleviate.
The company’s stock has rallied since July 27, when the New Yorker published the first of two investigative stories detailing allegations of sexual harassment made against Moonves. CBS stock plunged nearly 12%, falling to a low of $50.91, in the first full day of trading after the exposé. Shares have seen dramatic fluctuations over past two months, but closed today at $57.35.
While intrigue about the company’s future leadership and fate will provide the backdrop for tomorrow’s call, the main focus is likely to be on nuts-and-bolts financials. Despite the public storms, the fundamentals are in solid shape; CBS has set company records for revenue in recent quarters and has exceeded internal targets for direct-to-consumer apps CBS All Access and Showtime.
Wall Street analysts are expecting earnings of $1.22 a share, a bump from $1.11 a share in the year-ago period.
In a note last week, Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser said the management shuffling is “understandable in context of an organization that is looking to distance itself from the past and move itself forward.”
But regardless of the individual merits and logic of the various roles, Wieser added, “the appointments are also unusual considering the interim nature of the CEO role at this time. … In the short term we don’t think anything should get in the way of anticipated operating trends, but we are mindful that the company may yet go through further organizational changes, whether with the current team in place or another one.”
Which means, to paraphrase that American poet W. Axl Rose, welcome to the jungle, Joe.