Villalonga ankles as board reaffirms status quo

MADRID — At a 90-minute board meeting Wednesday in Madrid, Juan Villalonga proffered his resignation as prexy of giant telco Telefonica, while Cesar Alierta was duly voted the new prexy.

To quell suggestions that the top-level makeover will have dramatic consequences for Telefonica’s ongoing media expansion plans, the board issued an immediate press statement reaffirming “the company’s commitment to carry out all the strategic operations which are pending.”

That could be seen as a signal that under the new president — who was the president of tobacco multinational Altadis — Telefonica will not try to pull out of its pending purchase of U.S. Internet portal Lycos.

In a curious turn of events, Villalonga’s departure may also help steady the management ship at Telefonica giant film and TV conglom Telefonica Media (TM), which groups nearly all Telefonica’s film and TV assets.

These include a major stake in the U.K’s Pearson Group and controlling stakes in Spain’s commercial net Antena 3, satcaster Via Digital and production house Lolafilms.

One of Villalonga’s last decisions as Telefonica prexy was to replace industry vet Jose Antonio Rios as TM prexy by Telefonica’s head of marketing Manuel Garcia Duran.

Garcia Duran’s appointment rapidly sparked friction between him and Rios’ remaining TM management team, now led by TM CEO Juan Jose Nieto.

With Garcia Duran almost certain to follow Villalonga out the door, there is more likelihood that Nieto will stay on as TM CEO.

As CEO of Antena 3 and prexy of Via Digital, Nieto is regarded as a key part of TM’s management structure and one of the few execs in Spain with the experience and stature to help lead its international expansion.

Sources in Madrid rebuffed press reports that Nieto had already resigned from TM to take a top post at cell-phone operator Xfera.

Still being probed by the country’s stock market regulator for alleged insider trading, Villalonga made his exit with dignity Wednesday, perhaps mellowed by his psta4 billion ($22.4 million) severance package.

In a prepared speech he stated that with the change in chairmanship at Telefonica he was confident that it “will achieve its primary goal of creating shareholder value.” A former banker till the end.

While Villalonga, a daring dealmaker, was very much a one-man show, Alierta is likely to adopt a far more cautious team-style management.

Immediate press reactions to Alierta’s appointment have dubbed him as a pro-governmental man, but one not lacking international experience.

In something of a parallel to Villalonga’s achievements at Telefonica, in fact, Alierta saw through the privatization of Spanish state tobacco company Tabacalera and its international growth through a merger with French company, Seita, plus the now-renamed Altadis’ expansion into Latin America.

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