SHAKE-UP AT VIACOM : PROFILE: A SURVIVOR : With Each Ouster, Biondi Bounces Back
The last time he was unexpectedly ousted from a top post in a major entertainment company, Frank Biondi soon landed on his feet.
The year was 1984 and Biondi had worked his way up to the chief executive’s office at Home Box Office. A year later, the Harvard Business School graduate was safely settled atop Coca-Cola’s entertainment division, which at the time included several motion picture and television production firms.
With the sudden announcement Wednesday that he was bounced from his longtime post as president and chief executive of Viacom Inc., industry observers expect Biondi to continue his career in another top position in the entertainment business.
Biondi, who celebrated his 51st birthday last week, is almost universally described as a keen and friendly businessman who was the calm and easygoing foil to his former boss, Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone.
Biondi grew up in suburban New Jersey and became a star baseball player before heading off to Princeton University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1966. Two years later, with an MBA from Harvard, he had a short career as a financial analyst on Wall Street.
Biondi soon jumped into the entertainment industry, taking a job with the Children’s Television Workshop in New York. By 1978, he joined HBO, a job he got with the help of his longtime friend Michael Fuchs.
Biondi was named chief executive of the pay cable station in 1983 after playing an important role in HBO’s heady growth. But for reasons that are still not clear, he was let go the following year. Some observers said he was ousted because the company’s growth had stalled, but Biondi attributed his departure to differences of opinion with parent company Time Warner.
At Coca-Cola, Biondi oversaw the operation of Columbia Pictures, Coca-Cola Television and the company’s one-third stake in Tri-Star Pictures. In 1987, he was recruited to Viacom by Redstone and put in charge of an array of cable, broadcast, feature film, print and new-media content assets.
Biondi is well-liked throughout the entertainment industry for his down-to-earth style. He often dropped his children off at school on his way to his midtown Manhattan office from the family’s home in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.
The Biondis own homes in Vail, Colo., Scottsdale, Ariz., and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. But Frank Biondi would drive to work behind the wheel of an unassuming Toyota.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
On Biondi’s Watch
Frank Biondi Jr. was named chief executive of Viacom International Inc. almost nine years ago by Chairman Sumner Redstone. Since then, Biondi has helped transform the company from a debt-ridden cable and programming company into a vertically integrated giant. Biondi, who was fired Wednesday, was said by an insider to “be the glue that keeps everything together.” A look at his journey at Viacom:
* March 1987: National Amusements Inc., a theater chain operator and investor owned by Redstone, wins a bidding war for Viacom for $460 million in cash and $2.8 billion in debt.
* July 1987: Redstone names Biondi, then chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola Television, to succeed Terrence Elkes as Viacom CEO.
* May 1989: Viacom, owner of Showtime, sues HBO and its parent, Time Inc., claiming Time’s vast cable system is giving unfair preference to HBO. The suit, which seeks $2.4 billion in damages, is settled in the early ‘90s after Time Warner reportedly pays Viacom $75 million and agrees to buy a Milwaukee cable TV system.
* September 1989: Viacom says it has reached a watershed in its struggle to restructure its debt by entering into a 10-year agreement with its bank lenders.
* December 1990: Viacom’s Ha! channel and Time Warner’s Comedy Channel announce they will combine their assets under the name Comedy TV.
* October 1993: Viacom and QVC Network Inc. are in a bidding war for Paramount Communications Inc. To sweeten its offer, Viacom secures a $1.2-billion investment from regional phone company Nynex Corp.
* January 1994: As part of an 11th-hour gambit to derail a marriage between QVC and Paramount, Viacom and Blockbuster Entertainment Corp. announce a merger agreement. Analysts say there is no precedent for two large companies merging to facilitate a takeover.
* February 1994: Capping a four-month takeover brawl, Viacom claims victory in its battle with QVC for Paramount, paying $10 billion for the company. Redstone--who ended up paying $2 billion more than he planned to--says the combination of Viacom, Paramount and Blockbuster “will create a global media powerhouse of unparalleled proportions in the entertainment industry.”
* March 1994: Sony Pictures Entertainment executive Jonathan Dolgen is named to head Paramount Pictures.
* January 1996: Biondi is fired. Redstone will take over the chief executive duties.
Sources: Times and wire reports
Researched by JENNIFER OLDHAM / Los Angeles Times