Shift marks first change at the top of privately held conglom since 1979
Hearst Corp. is set to usher in its first new CEO in more than 30 years in June.
The media conglom’s board of directors met Wednesday to promote Steven Swartz to the top spot, succeeding Frank Bennack as of June 1. The shift had been expected ever since Swartz was upped to Hearst prexy last December.
Privately held Hearst is a major player in cable through its ownership of ESPN and A+E Television Networks in tandem with Disney. It also owns 29 TV stations and 15 daily newspapers, plus magazines including Cosmopolitan and Esquire.
Swartz (pictured left with Gotham mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bennack) has held exec posts at Hearst since 2001 and before that ran the company’s Smart Money magazine.
Bennack has been with Hearst for 50 years, serving as CEO since 1979. He’s credited with guiding the company’s expansion into cable and international publishing. Board chairman William R. Hearst III noted that Bennack has had the longest tenure at the top of the company of anyone other than founder William Randolph Hearst.
Bennack will remain exec vice chairman of the board and chair of its executive committee.
“Since Frank first stepped into the role of CEO in 1979, Hearst has seen unparalleled growth: 90% of the businesses we are in today did not exist or were not part of our company when his tenure began. Steve has all the talent, insight and experience to lead the company forward,” Hearst said. “We also have the benefit of Frank remaining as executive vice chairman of the board and we trust he will remain deeply involved in our corporate and foundation activities.”
Hearst has typically maintained a low profile compared to other media companies. But Hearst was in the tabloid spotlight earlier this month when Scott Sassa made a hasty exit as head of its Entertainment and Syndication division following reports that he was involved with a text messaging flap with a stripper.
There’s no word yet from the company on who will fill Sassa’s role in the divison, which manages Hearst’s cable holdings. Sassa had also been making a big push to expand the company’s TV production-distribution operations through acquisitions and partnerships such as its pact with Mark Burnett’s One Three Media.