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SAG taps CEO, take two

Guild names studio vet Pisano to fill slot vacated by Cooke

The Screen Actors Guild national board, trying to blot out the lingering embarrassment from the John Cooke fiasco, has tapped former studio exec A. Robert Pisano as its new national exec director-CEO.

The 58-year-old Pisano, who has been an entertainment industry consultant since 1999, was approved by the board on an 80-20 vote following a daylong de-bate over details of duties and powers. The split vote was not a surprise, reflecting the ongoing deep divisions within the guild along with concerns about giving the top exec the CEO title.

“I’m kind of in awe of what performers do so this is the chance to do something that I’ve always been attracted to,” Pisano told Daily Variety following his selection. “The changes facing this industry are so profound, so I’m excited about the role that the guild can play.”

Pisano, who plans to begin working today, said he had told the search committee and the national board that he was well aware of the ongoing rancor within SAG’s leadership and staff. “I told them that if SAG is organized and united, there is nothing it can’t accomplish,” he added.

Choosing Pisano showed the preference among SAG’s elected leaders for a familiar figure within the industry rather than an outside labor leader, as had been suggested following Cooke’s stunning departure in early July. SAG prexy William Daniels, who headed the search committee, cited Pisano’s background as a studio exec at MGM and Par along with his serving as a partner at O’Melveny & Myers in Los Angeles specializing in entertainment and business litigation.

“Bob Pisano brings a unique combination of skills, blending entertainment industry, executive management, legal and administrative experience that will be a significant resource to SAG,” Daniels said. “The selection committee believes that his substantial business background will serve this organization exceptionally well going forward and the SAG board has agreed, giving Bob the authority and powers needed to to do the job.”

Pisano will attend the second day of the national board meeting today and plans to travel to Gotham next week, followed by a tour of regional branches. “My first order of business is to meet as many people as possible,” he said.

Pisano spent more than a decade as a partner at O’Melveny and Myers before joining Par, where he was exec VP and served as general counsel and a member of the Office of the Chairman. He was an exec at MGM from 1993 to 1999, ending his tenure as vice chairman, before moving into consulting to orgs involved in entertainment and sports financing, DVD distribution, Internet video delivery and digital cable programming services.

“I feel as if taking this job is a third career for me after a first career as an attorney and a second as a studio executive,” Pisano said. “I thinks it’s important to re-generate and take on new challenges.”

SAG’s choice of Pisano resembles the Writers Guild of America West’s selection of longtime CBS exec John McLean two years ago to serve as chief exec. Pisano said he does not foresee any problem making the switch over to the labor side of the Hollywood fence.

“The issues that we deal with are the same,” he said. “The industry has to be a partnership between management and performers.”

The nine-member search committee, advised by Korn/Ferry Intl., had approved Pisano on a unanmous vote. That panel relaunched its work in mid-July fol-lowing its ill-fated selection of Cooke, who quit the post of national executive director/CEO 10 days after agreeing to take the job.

Cooke cited a letter from nine board members that he perceived as questioning his authority to act as CEO although the letter signers insisted they had no in-tention of pushing Cooke out.

SAG had been without a national exec director for nearly nine months since the retirement of long-time chief Ken Orsatti, who announced last October he would step down. Though SAG made no disclosure of the details of Pisano’s pact, the new SAG topper is expected to be paid in the range of $390,000 annually, the figure Cooke negotiated for his five-year deal.

Cooke’s announcement of his departure remains a major black eye for SAG. The dapper Getty Foundation exec blindsided guild officials and tied his exit to disenchantment with the factionalism on SAG’s board, blaming the letter signers for putting him in a position where his power was not clearly defined.

Cooke’s departure prompted several rounds of finger-pointing, particularly since presidential candidate Melissa Gilbert had signed the letter and former presi-dent Richard Masur had helped draft it. But many board members have followed the lead of Daniels, who took the view that if Cooke could not stomach such boardroom skirmishes, it was probably for the best for him to leave sooner rather than later.

The naming of Pisano also marks the beginning of the end of the tenure of longtime associate national exec director John McGuire, who has been running SAG’s day-to-day operations since even before Orsatti’s retirement. Gotham-based McGuire, who has clashed frequently with Daniels’ allies, received a three-year deal in April to act as a senior consultant to SAG once his replacement has been installed.

Pisano begins work with the national board unable to implement any of the major recommendations in last year’s Towers Perrin report — which calls for sweeping changes such as reducing the board size to 40 as part of $8 million in cost cuts from the $50 million budget. Towers Perrin had painted an unflattering picture of SAG as inefficient and mired in internal bickering, summing up in two words: “organizational chaos.”

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