Valenti: Too soon to say how long search will take

This article was updated on Feb. 22, 2004 and corrected on Feb. 23, 2004.

NEW YORK — Top media recruiter Spencer Stuart has been hired to find a replacement for Motion Picture Assn. of America prexy-CEO Jack Valenti, a sign that the search will widen beyond the corridors of Washington.

Executive search firm had its first meeting with Valenti in Gotham on Friday.

James Citrin, head of Spencer Stuart’s media practice, will head up the Hollywood end of the search, with colleague Leslie Hortum spearheading the political end from Washington.

Valenti told Daily Variety it’s too soon to say how long the search will take or what kind of individuals may be under consideration.

“We haven’t had that meeting yet,” he said. The review process could run three to four months.

Speaking along with Citrin at the MBA Media & Entertainment Conference in New York on Friday, Valenti maintained that the most important quality in his successor will be a love of movies, the creative process and being around creative people.

But after more than a year of the MPAA searching on its own — and two embarrassing rejections by retiring Louisiana lawmakers Billy Tauzin and John Breaux — Spencer Stuart will likely consider a broader range of potential candidates and skill sets. Member studios and Valenti are frustrated that the process has stalled and annoyed about the leaks associated with their first two choices.

Valenti’s new gig

Meanwhile, Valenti has negotiated a one-day-a-week position with the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. He is eager to begin but can only take the new humanitarian post once an MPAA successor is named.

Two weeks ago, studios asked Valenti to stay in his current role until at least the Cannes Film Festival in May.

A major question among the seven major studios that form the trade org is whether to go with a seasoned politician or consider prominent members of the business or legal fields to push Hollywood’s agenda in Washington and run the org’s sizable global operations. Spencer Stuart has been brought aboard to help answer that question.

The MPAA chieftain’s role has evolved considerably in the last five years as technological change has put piracy at the top of the agenda. The focus is more on finding a candidate with leadership and management skills to run the 200-staff org as opposed to a purely political lobbyist.

Though often considered one of the most highly remunerated trade association chiefs, Valenti in fact ranks 16th in terms of total annual compensation with $1.37 million, according to a National Journal survey released last week. (The head of the National Football League Players Assn. earned $2.74 million in 2002).

That revelation may increase the amount studios decide to pony up for the post, especially after Tauzin turned it down when the pharmaceutical industry approached him with a $2 million-plus offer to become its top hired gun.

Second thoughts

At the event Friday, Valenti expressed regret over the handling of the Oscar screener ban and its attendant legal battles last year. If he’d had it to do again, he said he would have sought a compromise sooner. “I was wrong. If it came up again, I wouldn’t do it that way.”

Valenti told Daily Variety that the MPAA has resolved its dispute with the coalition of indie film producers. In December that group won its case against the MPAA, successfully overturning the screener ban.

The MPAA had initially claimed it would appeal the New York court’s decision in the case, but an announcement is expected this week outlining terms under which the appeal is being dropped.

(Susan Crabtree in Washington and David Rooney in New York contributed to this report.)

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