Thomas Wyman, 73; Former CBS Chief Ousted in 1986 Shakeup
Thomas H. Wyman, the former CBS chairman and chief executive who was ousted in a dramatic management shakeup in 1986 after leading the communications giant for three years, has died. He was 73.
Wyman, who again made headlines last month when he became the first member of the Augusta National Golf Club to resign in protest over the club’s lack of female members, died Wednesday at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, according to a family statement Thursday. He had undergone surgery Dec. 15 for an abdominal infection.
In April 1983, CBS’ legendary founder, William Paley, then 81, turned the chairmanship of the network over to Wyman, who had been CBS president and chief executive since 1980. Paley stayed on as a consultant and member of the board of directors.
Paley had handpicked a series of heirs apparent, including Wyman, in his later years and had no qualms about dumping them when he felt they did not measure up.
Paley and Laurence A. Tisch, CBS’ chief stockholder, removed Wyman from power during a tense monthly board meeting in September 1986 that lasted more than nine hours.
Minutes of the meeting showed that Tisch and Paley thought Wyman’s shortcomings “included a record of unsuccessful acquisitions, inattention to the talent and creative aspects of the business, particularly in the flagship news division, inability to control overhead costs, failure to anticipate declines in operating earnings, and other factors.”
The pivotal factor leading to his ouster, according to many reports, was Wyman’s suggestion that Coca-Cola Co. might want to take over CBS. Tisch, Paley and other CBS board members were adamant that CBS should remain independent.
In 1987, CBS’ board approved a multimillion-dollar settlement with Wyman that, among other things, provided an annual payment of $400,000 for life. The company said the deal reflected contractual rights that Wyman had accumulated in his six years with the company.
Last month, Wyman was back in the news when he resigned from the Augusta National Golf Club. He told the New York Times that club Chairman Hootie Johnson’s position not to admit women was unacceptable and “pigheaded.”
Wyman estimated that as many as one-quarter of the roughly 300 club members also support the admission of women.
“I am not anxious to make this personal,” Wyman told the newspaper. “But Hootie keeps writing that there has not been a single case of protest in the membership. And he absolutely believes this will all go away. It will not go away and it should not.
“I know there is a large number of members, at least 50 to 75, who believe it is inevitable that there will be and should be a woman member.
“There are obviously some redneck, old-boy types down there, but there are a lot of very thoughtful, rational people in the membership and they feel as strongly as I do.”
Augusta National officials said they were disappointed at Wyman, saying that he was publicizing “a private matter” and that the club will decide when to admit women on its own.
Wyman had been a 25-year member of the club, which hosts golf’s top tournament, the Masters. CBS has broadcast the Masters for years.
“You have to admire him for what he did,” Tiger Woods said at the time.
Before coming to CBS, Wyman had stints with Nestle Co., Polaroid Corp. and the Green Giant Co.
At Green Giant, he served as president and chief executive for four years and brought around such an effective turnaround that the company was acquired by Pillsbury in 1978.
Wyman served briefly as vice chairman of the Pillsbury Co. before joining CBS.
Born Nov. 30, 1929, in St. Louis, Wyman graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.
An English major at Amherst College, he did his honors thesis on Irish poet William Butler Yeats and graduated magna cum laude in 1951.
Wyman entered the business world as a management trainee with First National City Bank in New York, but was sidelined by military service in 1953. He served two years in the Army Corps of Engineers in South Korea, reaching the rank of first lieutenant.
After resigning from CBS, Wyman served as an outside director of S.G. Warburg Group PLC from 1988 to 1992. He was later appointed chairman of S.G. Warburg & Co. and then a vice chairman of S.G. Warburg Group PLC, serving from 1993 to 1995, when it was merged into Swiss Bank Corp. He retired as a senior advisor in January 1998.
Wyman served on several corporate and philanthropic boards, including those of Amherst College and the United Negro College Fund.