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Speer makes sudden exit from HSN

Home Shopping Network Inc.’s founder and chairman, Roy M. Speer, has resigned unexpectedly.

The exec, who created the $ 2 billion tele-shopping market in 1985, stepped down Wednesday during a board meeting at company headquarters in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The company said Robert R. Bennett, senior veep/chief financial officer of Liberty Media Corp. and a director of HSN, was named acting chairman of Home Shopping. Liberty Media, which is headed by cable industry powerhouse John Malone, owns 41.5% of HSN’s shares and has effective control.

A company spokeswoman said Speer did not give any reason for his resignation. She said that, to her knowledge, the company hadn’t expected his resignation.

Speer, who has been the target of a growing inquiry into allegations of self-dealing and other questionable business practices, was the key to Liberty’s entrance into interactive TV. Speer sold his controlling stake in the company to Liberty last December for $ 152 million.

With Speer’s resignation, HSN and Liberty can now distance themselves from him. Since December, HSN has been paired up with QVC Network Inc., another cable shopping programmer that is also controlled by Liberty. In July, QVC made a formal bid for HSN.

But in the intervening months, Liberty appeared reluctant to push for the merger until legal issues surrounding Speer were resolved.

Speer managed to build up a sizable empire, with HSN reaching 60 million viewers and generating more than $ 1 billion in revenues for 1992. Under his leadership, the company excelled at integrating a state-of-the-art phone ordering system to handle shipping some 72,000 packages a day.

But things began to sour this past winter when a shareholder filed a suit against the company alleging improper payments were being made to Speer’s son. This spring, reports surfaced of a federal grand jury inquiry into relationships between HSN and its vendors.

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