Barry Baker abruptly resigned as president and chief operating officer of USA Networks Wednesday after just over a year at the company.
Baker joined USA in January 1999 as chairman/CEO Barry Diller’s No. 2 lieutenant. The exec said he’s departing in order to pursue opportunities as a chief executive.
“I’ve run businesses before. I’ve built businesses from zero to over a billion dollars, and I want to do it again,” Baker said. “I want to run my own store. … It’s what I do.”
Baker’s announcement even caught some execs inside USA by surprise. Baker said his decision to leave was unrelated to Vivendi’s acquisition of Seagram, which owns 42% of USA.
“Because I wouldn’t learn to speak French? No. I’ve been working on this for three weeks,” Baker said. “You can’t time this.”
Baker said he has given no precise date for his departure but will stay on as the company engineers a reorganization. As part of that restructure, Baker will not be replaced as COO.
“It’s not like there’s anyone coming in to take my job,” Baker said. “They’re not restructuring to get me out. But with me going they have a chance to restructure the company under some lines that are positive. And I’m going to stay and implement it.”
No hard feelings
Baker also stressed that his decision to leave didn’t have anything to do with any falling out with Diller.
“There’s zero bad feelings,” Baker said.
Diller and Baker got to know each other in the early days of Fox Broadcasting, when Diller operated the network and Baker ran some of Fox’s first affiliates.
“He tried to convince me to come over here in 1996,” Baker said. “It’s not like I’m a member of the ‘executive of the month’ club over here. I could learn forever with him. But that has to be weighed against doing something again for myself.”
Diller said in a statement that the breakup was “entirely amicable” and that “he and the other key members of the company know he has my complete and continued support in whatever he decides to do.”
Baker said he hasn’t decided what he’ll do next. The exec said he has stopped all talks with potential companies for now.
“Last time I went a week between jobs; this time I’m going to go a little longer,” he said.
Since joining USA, Baker has brought in a number of execs to run some of the company’s key divisions.
A USA spokeswoman cited hires including Rich Sheingold, who left his post as executive VP of the CBS TV Stations Group to become president of sales for USA Cable; Tim Peterman, who moved from director of finance for Sinclair Communications to chief financial officer of USA Broadcasting; and Mike Selick, who shifted from VP of finance for Sinclair Broadcasting to CFO of USA Networks.
Before USA, Baker was CEO designate of Sinclair Communications. He joined Sinclair when he sold the company he founded in 1989, River City Broadcasting, to Sinclair for $1.25 billion.
More recently, Sinclair filed a lawsuit against Emmis Communications and Baker relating to a right claimed by Baker to acquire Sinclair’s St. Louis radio and TV stations.
Baker began his broadcasting career in 1975 as marketing director for Upstate Cablevision and later managed radio startups in Houston and St. Louis. In 1983, he became general manager of KPLR-TV in St. Louis, quickly rising to a group executive position with the KPLR’s parent company.
Baker then founded River City Broadcasting in 1989 with $5.5 million of seed money from investors.
(John Dempsey in New York contributed to this report.)