I heard Sam Zell speak a couple of years ago at the Inland Press Association’s Annual Meeting. He was funny. Seemed full of energy, off the cuff, eccentric.
An article in today’s New York Times reveals so much more, reporting on the bizarre culture Zell and those he has brought in have created at the Chicago Tribune and elsewhere at the Tribune Company.
Clearly, Zell is steering company into the ground.
In January 2008, soon after the venerable Tribune Company was sold for $8.2 billion, Randy Michaels, a new top executive, ran into several other senior colleagues at the InterContinental Hotel next to the Tribune Tower in Chicago.
Mr. Michaels, a former radio executive and disc jockey, had been handpicked by Sam Zell, a billionaire who was the new controlling shareholder, to run much of the media company’s vast collection of properties, including The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, WGN America and The Chicago Cubs.
After Mr. Michaels arrived, according to two people at the bar that night, he sat down and said, “watch this,” and offered the waitress $100 to show him her breasts. The group sat dumbfounded.
“Here was this guy, who was responsible for all these people, getting drunk in front of senior people and saying this to a waitress who many of us knew,” said one of the Tribune executives present, who declined to be identified because he had left the company and did not want to be quoted criticizing a former employer. “I have never seen anything like it.”
The report goes downhill from there, where sexual harassment is justified as path to creative thinking, with disclaimers like this in the Tribune’s revised employee handbook:
“Working at Tribune means accepting that you might hear a word that you, personally, might not use,” the new handbook warned. “You might experience an attitude you don’t share. You might hear a joke that you don’t consider funny. That is because a loose, fun, nonlinear atmosphere is important to the creative process.” It then added, “This should be understood, should not be a surprise and not considered harassment.”
My jaw dropped several times reading this article. So sad. I don’t see how the Tribune can be taken seriously any more.