Weitzman exits U

Runtagh replaces litigator-turned-exec VP

Noted litigator and entertainment attorney Howard Weitzman’s venture into the studio ranks came to an end Monday, when he stepped down as exec VP of corporate operations at Universal Pictures, the studio announced.

He will be replaced by Hellene Runtagh, senior VP of Universal Studios, who supervised U’s recent corporate re-engineering.

Weitzman, who came to Universal in 1995, was responsible for all corporate operations divisions, including legal, human resources, consumer products, new media and studio operations.

Those duties will now be divided, with human resources and legal reporting to chairman and CEO Frank Biondi and prexy and chief operating officer Ron Meyer.

Runtagh will be in charge of consumer products, new media, studio operations and corporate marketing and sponsorship.

“This was a mutual decision, and although a difficult one, we are grateful to Howard for the many contributions he made during his time with the company,” Meyer said in a statement.

Weitzman called his 2-1/2 years at Universal “invaluable,” but gave no indication of his future plans.

One of the best-known litigators in Hollywood before coming to U, Weitzman never fit in fully with the corporate management approach of the studio, according to U corporate insiders. At least one insider said the evidence of his litigator’s heavy hand in certain projects did not fit in with the studio’s culture.

Weitzman was responsible for several key hires in the new administration, including Kenneth Kahrs, head of human resources; Karen Randall, chief general counsel; and James Watters, head of studio operations.

But sources said that Biondi and Meyer felt management was “not his strongest suit” and that Weitzman himself was not partial to that type of corporate post.

“Howard would have liked a different kind of role, but there was no role there for him,” said one source. “Friendship aside, Ron had seen how effective Howard was in his lawyering. But he hadn’t had the practical experience in an administrative role.”

According to other insiders, Weitzman had been barred from his regular office by U corporate and offered an alternative office in a building with independent filmmakers.

The departure is a small blow to Meyer, who brought Weitzman in as his right-hand man and confidant.

Another key Meyer hire, former exec VP and prexy of worldwide business development Sandy Climan, returned to his former home at Creative Artists Agency about a year ago. Climan was frustrated by the corporate nature of his role.

Meyer and the rest of the U team, including feature production, have also been dealing with the poor performance of the film division. Seagram topper Edgar Bronfman is said to be closely monitoring the division with an eye toward change.

Runtagh joined Universal in 1997, overseeing the implementation of the re-engineering initiatives, including vendor negotiations. Sources said Runtagh’s re-engineering saved the company as much as $150 million in the last year.

Before joining U, Runtagh spent 25 years at General Electric, where she was president and chief exec officer of GE Informa-tion Services at her departure.

“Hellene has demonstrated exceptional managerial expertise gained from her experience at General Electric,” Biondi said. “Since joining Universal last year, she successfully led the re-engineering effort and created an effective strategic sourcing operation, which has resulted in new capabilities, quality improvements and cost savings for the company.”