CHICAGO - Real estate magnate Sam Zell took control of newly private Tribune Co. yesterday and began shaking up the newspaper and TV company the moment the $8.2 billion buyout he led closed, reshuffling the board, naming two top executives and promising action ahead.
Taking on the chief executive officer and chairman roles, Zell made it clear he would not hesitate to make sweeping changes at the media conglomerate even though he had no experience in the industry.
He signaled he had no immediate asset sales in mind at the company, which owns 23 television stations and nine daily newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, although the Chicago Cubs baseball team and Wrigley Field are to be auctioned off by July.
He made it clear, however, that other changes were coming.
"There's a new sheriff in town, and the name of the game is excellence, relevance tied to revenue," Zell said at a news conference less than three hours after the deal's closing was announced. "I'm sick and tired of listening to everyone talk about and commiserate over the end of newspapers. They ain't ended, and they're not going to end. I think they have a great future."
Zell was tie-less and wore jeans and cowboy boots in his appearance at buttoned-down Tribune Tower. He is taking the company private under an employee stock ownership plan.
He added five directors to the board and named two longtime associates to key management posts. Randy Michaels, who helped him turn around radio company Jacor Communications Inc. with the help of significant cost cuts, will head the broadcast and Internet operations, and Gerry Spector, who has been chief operating officer at Zell's Equity Residential Properties, will be Tribune's chief administrative officer.
The swift personnel moves by the 66-year-old Zell, a self-described "professional opportunist," confirmed his intention to change the status quo at Tribune drastically.
Under terms set when he crafted the buyout deal in April, Zell's investment in Tribune now rises to $315 million from $250 million, and he owns warrants to buy about 40 percent of the company.
Setting the stage for the transition, the company said Wednesday that Dennis FitzSimons will step down as chairman and CEO and leave the company at the end of the year.