The Tribune Co.'s leadership fiasco
News has been swirling for days that Tribune Co. CEO Randy Michaels, a former radio executive and shock jock brought in by investor Sam Zell to manage what he's called "the deal from hell," will be resigning from the venerable media company by the end of the week.
In his place, the Wall Street Journal reports, the company's board will temporarily install a four-member "office of the president" comprised of top Tribune executives. Creditors, the Journal reports, who were looking to replace the bankrupt Tribune's management team for some time, were not consulted about the new team.
Had they been, they might have questioned the wisdom of installing four people in the top job. A company ridden with as much debt as Tribune Co., which became the largest media company in history to file for bankruptcy, needs a decisive leader to get it out of its current morass. Four leaders, even if it's just temporary, could hurt the company more than they help.
That's because the record on executives sharing the top spot is not a particularly good one, as egos, politics and power-sharing problems put in peril even the best working relationships. There are exceptions, of course, such as founders who've led a company together from the beginning (California Pizza Kitchen's Rick Rosenfield and Larry Flax are one example) or those who have truly complementary talents (such as Blackberry maker Research in Motion's co-CEOs, tech innovator Mike Lazaridis and numbers whiz Jim Balsillie).
But in cases where power-sharing comes about in companies that are struggling or going through significant transition, it often doesn't end well. Back in 2009, co-CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Wenda Millard departed amid disagreements at the top. In the early 2000s, Kraft demoted co-CEO Betsy Holden as revenues slumped. And when Citigroup and Travelers merged in 1998, Sandy Weill's and John Reed's famously tense relationship running the newly merged company together prompted Reed to leave.
There is little question Tribune Co. needed new leadership. In a barn burner of a story, The New York Times's David Carr reveals the bankrupt culture of Tribune Co., reporting a climate of sexual innuendo and harassment that must be read to be believed. Any student of leadership looking for a case study of management gone wrong will find it all there, from hiring cronies to paying out exorbitant bonuses to financing a debt-ridden deal on the backs of employees.
Even if creditors are right in seeking Michaels's resignation before a permanent replacement has been found--and if what's been reported is true, he should be replaced immediately--they could have turned to a board member on an interim basis. More and more are doing that these days. Naming four executives to lead a company with as many troubles as the Tribune--even if they rid the culture of some of its more offensive aspects--could lead to new problems all their own.
October 21, 2010; 12:00 PM ET |
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