Tribune Co. emerged from bankruptcy last year owned by a bank, JP Morgan, and private equity investors from Los Angeles-based Oaktree Capital Management. Now it's going to be run by an executive whose most recent job was at the giant private equity firm the Carlyle Group. Peter Liguori landed there for a stint after serving as the Chief Operating Officer at Discovery Communications.
Last year, the bankers and private-equity guys who now control the company started to talking to yet more bankers about possibly selling Tribune Co.'s newspapers, which include the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, as well as local TV station KTLA.
In an interview with the L.A. Times published Thursday, Liguori said that he's isn't interested in selling, say...the L.A. Times for a "fire sale" price. And then he said some other things:
I almost look at this company as 165-year-old start-up. We have the luxury of great brand familiarity and great brand history and I think it allows us to move and be nimble, the total opposite of what a lot of entrenched institutions are.
Okay, he's supposed to say that. But the whole concept of a 165-year-old startup? That's a little insulting to the startups that are only 160 years old, much less then ones that are, you know, actual startups that still running on shoestring funding and trying desperately to innovate or die.
But it's clear that expects the company to operate at a brisk pace.
Then he got to the meat of the matter:
Are there plans to sell the newspapers?
There are people interested in the newspapers. It is my fiduciary responsibility to hear them out and see if in fact their interest is real and their commitment is concomitant with the value of these newspapers. But that runs parallel to my working with you guys on running the business on a day-to-day basis to maximize the value.
That's a nice, crisp statement of purpose that can be translated into what Liguori and the new Tribune Co. board could be thinking when it comes to selling the newspapers and concentrating on digital and broadcast:
•Rupert Murdoch, who runs the Wall Street Journals and Fox, may genuinely want to overpay for at least the L.A. Times and the Chicago Tribune.
•But there's no way he's going to get away with lowballing us.
•Anyone in upper management at the newspapers had better not ease up. Everyone's job now is to bolster the papers' value so JP Morgan and Oaktree — as well as media-bankruptcy specialist Angelo, Gordon & Co. — can realize a good return on the risk they took by seeing Tribune through a very long and hard-fought bankruptcy
This is how private equity operates. Must. Maximize. Value. And Tribune Co.'s new CEO is making no bones about how things are going to go down from this point forward.
The clarity is refreshing, although the message is intimidating.