Sam Zell names CEO, but remains chairman

Sam Zell has handed the CEO reins at Tribune Co. to his top lieutenant, Randy Michaels.

Zell will continue as Tribune chairman, but the move raised speculation that he’s prepping his exit from the company, which is wending its way through bankruptcy proceedings.

Michaels’ promotion recognizes that he has been functioning as CEO of the Chicago-based newspaper and TV station owner for some time. Michaels has also been elected to Tribune’s board of directors. The CEO shuffle comes a day after a bankruptcy court judge in Delaware set Feb. 28 as the deadline for Tribune execs to file a formal reorganization plan for the company. Tribune filed for Chapter 11 protection a year ago when it became clear the company could not maintain the heavy $13 billion debt load that it took on when Zell took the company private in December 2007.

Ultimately, Tribune is likely to have a new board of directors after it emerges from bankruptcy, and that board will make decisions on its senior management.

Michaels joined Tribune as exec veep-CEO of its broadcast and interactive divisions when the Zell-led takeover was completed in December 2007. He was upped to chief operating officer in May 2008.

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