Thursday, March 08, 2007

Sam Zell Could Well Be Better Than FitzSimons

--Written from Palm Springs, California

Sam Zell may be a pig in the poke, because we know little or nothing about him, and his aspirations if he were to succeed in what the L.A. Times article by Jim Rainey yesterday called an increasingly serious bid to buy the Tribune Co.

But the odds are that Zell would be a more ambitious and constructive director than the inept Dennis FitzSimons, CEO of Tribune.

(A comment from a reader points out that Zell has compiled a substantive record saving companies in difficulties and has specifically done well in motorcycles and real estate. But what I meant in saying that Zell is a pig in the poke is that, like Mark Willes when he came to the L.A. Times from General Mills, Zell has no journalistic experience, so we don't know whether he would be at all sensitive to the peculiar requirements of honest journalism).

The first two Tribune papers to be sold in the ongoing disintegration of the company are the small papers in Stamford and Greenwich, Ct. They are going to Gannett for $73 million. Both were possessions of Times-Mirror before it was sold to Tribune.

The future of the L.A. Times and the other papers, including the Chicago Tribune, are still up for grabs. But the Tribune board is now reported to have dismissed the Broad-Burkle and Chandler family offers for the company as insufficient, and to be working on Zell to enhance his bid.

Zell, a Chicagoan who has made billions in real estate, might conceivably sell some more of the Tribune papers, if his bid were to be successful, just as McClatchy did some of the newspapers it purchased last year. David Geffen or Eli Broad might be able to buy the Times from him easier than from Tribune Co.

But if Zell were to keep the L.A. Times, it's hard to see how any smart businessman would opt to continue to downsize the newspaper.

Under FitzSimons, downsizing is on going, as shown by the disgraceful plan to lay off more employees and fold the book review into Current and move it to Saturdays.

FitzSimons, who has either had a lobotomy or needs one, has one policy -- and that is to diminish the Times and treat it as an unwanted step child every chance he gets. He remains positively dangerous to Los Angeles.

Zell might appreciate the potential in making some investments in the Times.

It reminds me a little of the death of Stalin when I was 15 in 1953. There were observers who thought Stalin would be replaced by someone worse. I thought at the time it was unlikely that any successor would prove worse than Stalin, and I was right.

If FitzSimons goes, and he and his fellow executives take their $269 million in severance already set aside with them, the chance would be that Zell, or any other buyer except Rupert Murdoch, would prove better.


Patt Morrison has an outstanding column on the Times Op-Ed Page this morning extrapolating the frightful bombings and massacres in Iraq to California. It bears thinking about, that these terrorists could move their operations here, to to the destruction of USC, Westwood, Sacramento and so many other locales. That's what our troops in Iraq are fighting to prevent. It's not as outlandish a possibility as some would like it to be.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ken, a lot is known about Sam Zell if you bother to look.

Zell used to be called "The Grave Dancer" because he bought companies that were on the verge of death. He turned around Italian motorcycle maker Ducati, turning a failing company into one that enjoys sales success worldwide and in the highest pinncales of racing. He has made billions in real estate. His primary company is Equity Group Investments. He also runs Equity Residential, the largest owner of apartments in the U.S.

A bit more at:

3/08/2007 5:02 PM  

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