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Mark Willes Named to Head Times Mirror : Media: Chairman Robert Erburu to retire. He says successor, a General Mills executive, has vision for ‘next era of growth.’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Times Mirror Co. on Monday named Mark H. Willes, a vice chairman with food giant General Mills Inc. and a former senior Federal Reserve official, as its new chief executive to succeed Robert F. Erburu.

Willes, 53, will become president and chief executive June 1, adding the title of chairman on Jan. 1, 1996, when Erburu retires.

Willes also will be elected a Times Mirror director. Erburu, who turns 65 in September, plans to remain a director of the consumer and professional information company, which is the parent of the Los Angeles Times.

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The naming of Willes marks the end of an era for Times Mirror under Erburu, who has held the positions of president, chief executive or chairman since 1974 and now holds all three titles. Erburu, who succeeded Otis Chandler as chairman in 1986, joined Times Mirror in 1961 as general counsel and secretary after working as a lawyer at the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Under his leadership, Times Mirror grew to a $3.35-billion-a-year information company.

Willes was selected after a search by the Times Mirror board that began in late 1994. He will be introduced today to stockholders attending the company’s annual meeting at Times Mirror’s Downtown Los Angeles headquarters.

“Mark Willes possesses the experience, ability and vision to lead Times Mirror in its next era of growth,” Erburu said. “His senior-level operating responsibilities in an $8-billion international consumer goods and services firm will be of great benefit to Times Mirror. He brings a strong focus on financial performance, marketing excellence and quality.”

Said Willes: “We live in an era of rapid change--change in the way that information is gathered, presented and distributed, and change in the way businesses are run. Times Mirror is facing the challenge of this new era--and it is poised to capitalize on opportunities for growth and profitability, while strengthening its leadership role in the news and information businesses.”

Among those reporting to Willes will be Curtis A. Hessler, 51, executive vice president who oversees Times Mirror’s professional information and consumer media segments, and Richard T. Schlosberg III, 51, executive vice president who is publisher of The Times and also is responsible for Times Mirror’s newspapers.

Willes is not the first executive from outside Times Mirror to be picked to assume the top spot at the company. In 1968, the late Franklin D. Murphy, then chancellor of UCLA, was tapped to become chairman and chief executive.

In addition to publishing The Times, Times Mirror owns such newspapers as Newsday, New York Newsday and the Baltimore Sun, publishes books, information and educational products and trade magazines, and has new ventures in consumer multimedia and cable television programming.

A 15-year General Mills veteran, Willes played a key role during the 1980s in reversing the Minneapolis food company’s diversification strategy.

Among his accomplishments was devising a complex plan to spin off General Mills’ toy and fashion units to shift the company’s focus back to its core food businesses.

General Mills is probably best known for its breakfast cereals such as Cheerios and Wheaties, and restaurants such as the Olive Garden chain of Italian restaurants that are now being spun off.

Willes served as the company’s president and chief operating officer from 1985 to 1992, when he was named vice chairman.

An economist by training, Willes at age 35 became the youngest person elected by Federal Reserve governors to head a district bank when he was named president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis in 1977. He previously had been a first vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

As president of the district bank, Willes earned a reputation as a strong advocate of tighter money policies, shunning the usual role of obscurity for Federal Reserve district bank presidents. He openly dissented during the late 1970s from former Fed Chairman G. William Miller, saying that Fed policies had let the money supply grow too fast, fueling inflation.

Willes later became an outspoken supporter of the much tighter policies of Miller’s successor, Paul A. Volcker.

In Times Mirror, Willes assumes a company in transition that has been moving increasingly toward being a “content provider” rather than only a distributor of information.

A key part of the new strategy was the company’s recent spinoff of its cable operations into a new venture headed by Cox Enterprises of Atlanta in a deal valued at $2.3 billion.

Last month, Times Mirror and Cox executives also disclosed that they will form two new cable services--one on outdoor activities and the other on motor sports--headed by former ESPN executive Roger L. Werner.

In an interview, Willes took issue with some of the conventional wisdom that newspapers in their present form have a limited future. “Newspapers are a very user-friendly, consumer-friendly thing. They are very easy to access,” Willes said.

He said Times Mirror is strong in product development, and stressed that the challenge for the company will be to develop new products that are not only interesting, but which people are willing to pay for and use repeatedly.

Born in Salt Lake City, Willes received his bachelor’s degree from Columbia College in New York and a Ph.D. in economics in 1967 from the Columbia Graduate School of Business. He is married with five grown children.

Willes will become Times Mirror’s seventh chairman of the board when he assumes the post from Erburu in January.

Erburu’s early career with Times Mirror was spent negotiating acquisitions, and concluded with the cable transaction with Cox that resulted in a $1.6-billion gain for Times Mirror.

Born in Ventura, Erburu graduated from USC and Harvard Law School.

He is past chairman of the American Newspaper Publishers Assn., past chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and chairman of the boards of trustees of the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Huntington Library, Art Gallery and Botanical Gardens in San Marino.

Erburu is married with two grown daughters.


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