Los Angeles Times publisher Eddy Hartenstein was named chief executive of Tribune Co., which owns The Times, the Chicago Tribune, KTLA-TV Channel 5 and other media properties.
Hartenstein will remain publisher of Los Angeles Times Media Group, but has appointed former Times executive Kathy Thomson president and chief operating officer.
The change in the management structure at Tribune did not signal a geographic shift for the company, Hartenstein said. Tribune will remain headquartered in Chicago, and Hartenstein said he “will be racking up a lot of frequent-flier miles.”
Hartenstein’s chief challenge will be to keep the company running as it struggles to exit bankruptcy protection after several years of stop-and-start negotiations with creditors and bankruptcy court hearings.
“The board feels strongly that it is in Tribune’s best interest to have one person providing strategic vision and day-to-day direction for the company and its employees as we prepare to emerge from the Chapter 11 process,” said Sam Zell, Tribune’s chairman.
Zell credited Hartenstein with understanding the challenges new technology presents the media industry. Hartenstein’s appointment comes after a roughly six-month period during which Tribune was managed by a four-member executive council following the resignation of former Chief Executive Randy Michaels after complaints about behavior deemed improper by the board of directors.
Originally, Michaels was replaced by a four-member executive council that consisted of Hartenstein; Tony Hunter, president, publisher and CEO of Chicago Tribune Co.; Nils Larsen, Tribune Co. chief investment officer; and Don Liebentritt, who was in charge of the company’s Chapter 11 restructuring.
That council is being dissolved, but each of the executives will remain in senior management positions with Tribune.
Hartenstein, a Los Angeles native, noted that he has deep personal and professional ties to Southern California, and Tribune’s board believed it made sense to keep him as publisher of The Times because it is the company’s largest business.
Tribune sought bankruptcy protection in December 2008 after a leveraged buyout by Zell that a year earlier saddled it with more than $12 billion in debt. In addition to The Times, Tribune owns the Chicago Tribune, other newspapers and 23 broadcast stations.
Creditors have been fighting over how to divvy up the equity in the business for years. Aurelius Capital Management, the largest junior creditor in the bankruptcy case, has locked horns with the senior group -- which includes lender JPMorgan Chase & Co. and investment funds Oaktree Capital Management and Angelo, Gordon & Co. -- over what a reorganization plan would look like.
In March, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Carey adjourned 10 days of hearings in the case with the warning that he saw problems with both the Aurelius plan and a competing plan filed by Tribune and its senior creditors that might make it impossible to approve either of them.
The next bankruptcy hearing is scheduled for June 14.
Hartenstein said his job will be to focus on the company’s operations regardless of how long the bankruptcy continues.
“The bankruptcy process is between two sets of creditors with some large issues and some large numbers between them,” he said.
“But if we improve the business and the enterprise we are doing, everything will work out,” Hartenstein said.
He said he doesn’t consider the appointment a “caretaker” position until a new board is established when Tribune does emerge from bankruptcy.
“I don’t do anything on an interim basis. I am pretty much full-throttle,” Hartenstein said.
Hartenstein, 60, became publisher of The Times in August 2008 after a lengthy career at Hughes Electronics Corp., the defense contractor and satellite maker later acquired by General Motors Corp.
At Hughes, he pushed the idea of using satellite technology to beam television programming directly into the homes of consumers. His concept would become DirecTV Group Inc., the satellite television business. Hartenstein was its president and then CEO, from its inception in 1994 until 2004.
He remains connected to the satellite-based entertainment business, serving as the non-executive chairman of Sirius XM Radio Inc. He is also on the board of Broadcom Corp., SanDisk Corp. and the City of Hope hospital in Duarte.
Thomson is returning to The Times after serving for the last 18 months as a vice president of FLO TV Inc., a subsidiary of Qualcomm Inc. Previously she was chief of staff at The Times from September 2008 to 2009. She spent 15 years in a variety of positions at DirecTV, culminating in the role of senior vice president, sales and marketing operations.
“She brings a modern approach and extensive knowledge of other relevant digital industries that will also be key factors in ensuring our future success,” Hartenstein said.