Skip to comments.Trib boss Zell on way out (Dinosaur Media DeathWatch™)
Posted on 08/14/2009 6:28:15 AM PDT by abb
Sam Zell's days as a media titan in Chicago are nearly over.
The motorcycle-riding billionaire, renowned for his deft touch with real estate and corporate turnarounds, took Tribune Co. private in late 2007 promising to energize the lumbering company. He piled on debt at exactly the wrong time, and a collapse in advertising for traditional media forced him to take the company to Chapter 11 bankruptcy. » Click to enlarge image Tribune Co. Chairman and CEO Sam Zell (AP)
Eight months after the filing, two sources familiar with the process said creditors are working on a reorganization plan that elbows Zell aside. The creditors, including investment banks owed $8.6 billion from Zell's Tribune takeover, would stage a takeover of their own and sell off the company's newspapers and broadcast stations as they see fit.
"The banks will be in charge," one insider said, adding that they are growing impatient with Zell's stewardship. The bankruptcy court on Monday granted Zell extended time, until Nov. 30, to be the first to file a reorganization plan. Creditors have to wait at least that long before filing their own plan with the court.
William Brandt Jr., a corporate turnaround expert not involved in the case, said enough time has passed so that creditors and the debtor want to cut losses and save face. He said an honorable exit is especially important to Zell, who might need investment banking help for future deals.
"This was a textbook case of a leverage buyout gone bad," said Brandt, president of Development Specialists Inc. "These were imbeciles who had no idea what they were doing."
Brandt said Zell waited too long to sell major assets, accomplishing only a $650 million sale of Newsday, the Long Island-based daily. A sale of the Tribune-owned Chicago Cubs for around $900 million is not final and suffered a months-long detour when Zell tried to sell Wrigley Field separately to an arm of state government.
Still, Tribune financial reports filed with the bankruptcy court show recent improvement. The company's cash on hand rose to $740.5 million as of June 28, up from $702 million in late May. It reported profitable operations in June aside from debt obligations, but for the period from Dec. 8, 2008 to June 28 it said it lost $836.5 million. The numbers don't include units such as the Cubs, which were left out of the bankruptcy filing.
Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman said, "Since going private, we have re-engineered many of our existing products and introduced new ones, expanded our local news programming, dramatically reduced our expenses and positioned the company to succeed in the face of an extremely difficult ad environment and a worsening economy."
He added that Zell and other managers "remain actively engaged and committed to Tribune. The restructuring is still in progress and we continue having positive discussions with our various creditor constituencies. It is premature to speculate about the company's final ownership structure."
While the company has laid off workers, it has hired others to fill new needs. Bankruptcy experts said creditors usually don't object to such new expenses if they believe they help preserve value.
Tribune debt recently traded for about 7 cents on the dollar, meaning investors think a lottery ticket is just as likely to pay off. The company's total debt, counting what Zell assumed in his takeover, is around $13 billion.
Brandt said the Tribune deal has become such a "reputational disaster" for Zell that's he's probably not involved much in management other than creditor negotiations. That could be one reason the company wants bankruptcy court approval to pay bonuses of about $70 million to top managers.
Tribune owns the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and other major newspapers, as well as WGN-TV and radio and 22 other TV stations.
David Wirt, chairman of the bankruptcy practice at the firm Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell, said Zell may be getting pressure because creditors want to see revenue growth, and not just cost-cutting. Also, the bankruptcy process is expensive and participants tire of paying lawyer fees that can top $800 an hour for senior partners, said Wirt, whose firm is not involved in the case.
In late 2008, debt analyst Mike Simonton of Fitch Ratings estimated Tribune was worth about $4 billion if sold. Since then, the company's balance sheet has worsened. As of June 28, Tribune said its liabilities exceeded assets by $7.1 billion, vs. $5.7 billion at the time of Simonton's estimate.
Even after a drawn-out liquidation, creditors may be lucky to get a third of their investment back.
Poor Col. MacCormick
Zell should have stuck to commercial real estate.
Rich Tucker :: Townhall.com Columnist
We’d Rather Not Have Fewer Sources
Economy tests medias diversity
Newsrooms struggle to look more like the audience
Welcome to the Age of the Imbecile.
Hard come, easy go.
The Chandler heirs got out just in the nick of time.
Don’t know a thing about it, but where exactly does “Shortshanks” come in? Nothing on such a large—read EXPENSIVE—scale happens in Chicago without the Mayor getting a slice, or getting even for being left out.
More Newsroom Cuts at 2 Wisconsin Papers
Businessweek Sale Seen Heating Up
Fresno Bee Guild says NO to management’s vacation burndown proposal
Bill Wyman Speaks Truth to Power
There was some smoke several months ago regarding the sale of the Chicago Cubs and the feds got interested. Maybe that was his connection. But the Tribune Company is much more than the Cubs and the Chicago newspaper. LA Times, a couple of TV stations, the Orlando Sentinel, Baltimore Sun, etc.
Tribune Co. chief Sam Zell interviewed by federal prosecutors in criminal probe of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich
Please, Uncle Rush, please, pretty please - buy these commie b@$t@rds out for pennies on the dollar and either fire all the liberals (which is pretty much everyone) or force them to write conservative commentaries and slant the news to the conservative side. Please, huh, please, huh?
Now he can go back to writing stories about puppies...
Exclusive: Sam Zell Says ‘#### You’ To His Journalist
Unfortunately, that market typically dies about 18 months to two years after the economy and market tanks. Most analysts think it will soon be in worse shape than the housing market -- or even newspapers, for that matter.
True, but Zell used REAL (not 2004-2009 inflated) equity to buy this albatross. He had billions in REAL equity from long term holdings. He blew it trying to become a media mogul.
“Most analysts think it will soon be in worse shape than the housing market — or even newspapers, for that matter. “
I read somewhere on FR this week that 2.2 trillion in comml. real estate loans are delinquent(90 days or more of nonpayment).
Economy tests medias diversity
Newsrooms struggle to look more like the audience
The suckers are goin' down fast, be dead in mere months and they're concerned about diversity in newsrooms??
What newsrooms. :o)
IIRC, Zell himself put “only” $350 million into the deal. While that’s a lot of money for sure, he still has most of fortune intact. He convinced Brian Greenspun to put money into the deal, also.
Owner of Vegas paper takes part in Zell’s gamble
Who knows? The Feds have been cooking the books so much lately nobody knows what's going on. And Congress refuses to let the GAO audit their books because "we wouldn't understand, and don't really want to know."
Zell getting into a business he knew little about is similar to Obama going from community organizer to chief executive with little in between. Obama's story will have a similar ending.
“IIRC, Zell himself put only $350 million into the deal.”
Hard cash maybe, but I guarantee you the lenders took collateral from Zell. I spent 20 years financing large real estate projects, and no lender would leave themselves that exposed. Zell must have taken at least a 1 billion hit, and I figure much more.
Deal to sell Modesto Bee building to college district falls through
I defer to your experience, but I’m pretty sure the lenders only have the assets of the Tribune Company as collateral.
I’ll try and dig up some articles.
“Who knows? The Feds have been cooking the books so much lately nobody knows what’s going on. And Congress refuses to let the GAO audit their books because “we wouldn’t understand, and don’t really want to know.”
LOL! Cooking the books is the understatement of the decade. Typical elitist response “we wouldn’t understand”. I guarantee you, I would understand.
“I defer to your experience, but Im pretty sure the lenders only have the assets of the Tribune Company as collateral”
If this is the case, Zell is a friggin genius, and put the Hunt brothers deal in 1980 to shame ;-)
FWIW Zell reportedly used Trib’s ESOP as collateral. Caveat: I’m not a banker.
Tribune Co. files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection
Tribune Bankruptcy Stops Clocks, Eases Debt Burden
Tribune Co. Files for Chapter 11 Protection
Last year, Mr. Zell’s firm invested $315 million in Tribune in exchange for a subordinated note and a warrant entitling it to acquire 40% of the stock. He now says he assumes his investment is worthless.
Here are the court docs.
Will Tribune sell off The Sun, other papers?
Actually, the smart guys in all this were the Chandlers. But had they been REALLY smart they would have sold their interest in about 2003 and could have made about 3x what they actually did sell for.
Contrast them with Pinch Sulzberger who paid $1.1 billion for the Boston Globe in 1993, rode it down to three years ago when he could have sold it for $1/2 billion, and now it is worth not much more than the real estate on which sits the printing presses. They are worth only scrap price.
Local group may bid for Globe
Retired GE chief, adman involved; paper not on block
Platinum Equity has submitted a “preliminary bid” for the paper, according to a person with knowledge of the proposal. The firm is offering to pay $35 million for the paper and assume $59 million in pension liabilities, according to published reports.
AJC relocation would end an era for Atlanta
A consortium of lenders(typical of a deal this size) will take it in the shorts. Money was so loose back then, it wouldn’t surprise me if Zell got away with it. Thanks.
“Actually, the smart guys in all this were the Chandlers. But had they been REALLY smart they would have sold their interest in about 2003 and could have made about 3x what they actually did sell for.”
Yep, and Pinch is an incompetent fool ;-)
To be accurate, I would have to say that Zell didn't "get away with it." He put real money into the deal and has lost it all. And he's lost some of his reputation, which IS important to folks like him, especially at his advanced age. This deal will be remembered for a long, long time, since it involves newsies. They protect their own and will always remember Zell's slights.
But Zell damn sure arranged the deal where his financial risk was minimal compared to the lenders. And the ESOP is gone which means the defined benefit retirement plans which depend upon it are in jeopardy.
No doubt the personal failure hit Zell hard.
Stopping the Newspaper Deathwatch:
.......”The banks will be in charge.....
Wonder which banks? Might the lead bank be Government owned?
Might the socialists be saving the media with taxpayer funds?
Might they be actually taking control?
Am I paranoid?
While people like to call these publishers dinosaurs, the better analogy is to a Dodo bird. I say this because newspapers aren't huge monstrosities killing everything in their path, but huge, dumb birds that have paid no attention to change and the new reality.I've neglected my tweets. :(
Series: APs online strategy
Who, really, is The Associated Press accusing of copyright infringement?
A tribute to “fair use” and the AP’s misguided crusade against the hyperlink. All content on this site was generated automatically from the AP’s own RSS feeds. (Sorry, we forgot to include your magic DRM beans.)
What’s New at the Citizen Media Law Project
Steve Brill’s Journalism Online venture signs 500 newspapers
Websites should offer ‘news that’s fit to buy’
AP Bans Use of Famed Woodstock Photo By Members
Big Media To Compete With Nielsen Ratings
While Woodstock Rocked, GIs DiedAntime someone brings up Woodstock, I bring up General Peter Muhlenberg's famous sermon at Woodstock and I get to expound upon the religious foundations of our founders that bought the freedoms we enjoy.
Here is what the Library of Congress has to say about Gen. Muhlenberg.
"A Fighting Parson
Peter Muhlenberg (1746-1807) was the prime example of a "fighting parson" during the Revolutionary War. The eldest son of the Lutheran patriarch Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg, young Muhlenberg at the conclusion of a sermon in January 1776 to his congregation in Woodstock, Virginia, threw off his clerical robes to reveal the uniform of a Virginia militia officer. Having served with distinction throughout the war, Muhlenberg commanded a brigade that successfully stormed the British lines at Yorktown. He retired from the army in 1783 as a brevetted major general."
Library of Congress Link
Here is a statue of him in the U.S. Capitol
Now that is what I think about when anyone brings up Woodstock.
Agencies, Media, Clients Ally for Video Initiative
Single-source audience measurement is the goal
2009 total: 13,253+ jobs
Layoffs and buyouts at U.S. newspapers in 2009
Smart guy, that Dvorak fella. ;^)
Great to see the Dodo.
Was such a great idea. ~sigh~
Well, keyboard warriors? Mount up -- Forward Ho'!! :o)
Tribune Co. creditors seek special counsel to probe buyout, could sue to recover money
By Ameet Sachdev
August 15, 2009
Tribune Co. creditors have asked the bankruptcy court for permission to hire special counsel to further investigate the $8.2 billion leveraged buyout of the Chicago-based media company engineered by real estate magnate Sam Zell.
The inquiry is common practice when a bankruptcy follows closely on the heels of an LBO, said bankruptcy experts. Zell closed the transaction that took Tribune Co. private in December 2007. The new debt obligations were too big a burden amid rapidly declining advertising revenues, sending the company, parent of the Chicago Tribune, into bankruptcy in December 2008.
Creditors have not filed a lawsuit seeking to recover money against parties that were involved in the going-private transaction, which established an employee stock ownership plan to become majority owner of the company. But the court filing on Thursday signaled that they are considering pursuing litigation, said Chicago-based restructuring expert Bill Brandt.
With creditors likely to collect only a small percentage of their debts, “it is an absolute certainty that creditors look to the realm of lawsuits to try and get more money out,” Brandt added.
There is precedent for challenging LBOs in bankruptcy court on grounds of “fraudulent conveyance.” Such suits argue that LBOs have left companies with too much debt to operate and benefited former executives, bankers, lawyers and financial advisers at the creditors’ expense. There’s usually not a question of fraud with the buyout, but rather the issue of whether the transaction was commercially reasonable.
If I ever need an investigative reporter, you are it!
Good job, and thanks.
If I remember right, Zell is ‘only’ personally on the hook for some $300 mil. I guess that’s long gone.
Yes, we’ve been discussing that very thing upthread. Some of the lenders are going to try and recover more, though. See post 45.
It's pretty obvious that malls and office space are emptying. The market will correct that if allowed to without government interference. The owners will have to lower the rent they get per square foot to something that the market will bear. Of course I have little confidence that the Dems will allow this to happen.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.