PRAGUE — When Fred Klinkhammer joined CME in 1997, it was the regional broadcasting powerhouse. Two presidents later, when he was moved up to the top slot, CME had pulled out of the lucrative German, Polish and Hungarian markets, had loss-makers in four markets and was about to embark on a protracted legal battle with the renegade director of its Czech station. “I didn’t come expecting to step into this kind of responsibility,” says the free-spoken Canadian. “I’ve spent all my time trying to fix things that were broken.”
After “skimming the fat” and working with station directors in Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Ukraine to make them all profitable, he says, “Now we’ve got this handsome little business.”
But reviving companies is nothing new for Klinkhammer, who’s a master of the icy steel gaze when crossed. His turnaround of pay TV outfit First Choice was “most personally rewarding” and surprised colleagues who said it couldn’t be done.
Lately, Klinkhammer’s been guiding CME through a two-year-plus legal tangle with Nova TV director Vladimir Zelezny that has led to precedent-setting court cases.
Rejecting the notion he’s a miracle worker, Klinkhammer says, “It’s plain hard work. We’ve been extremely careful to stick to our principles and tried to be like Caesar’s wife.”
Dealing with the region’s “relatively immature legal systems where tunneling (stripping companies of assets and profits) is legally possible” and people still fear the police has turned the job into a seven-day-a-week grind. But Klinkhammer plans to stick around.
“I owe it to myself to enjoy the profit times,” he says, looking forward to a return to expansion and development. And more time for sailing in Lake Huron, off the island he and his wife bought, and his regular poker game with Canadian industry colleagues.
Considering the skills honed during his Czech showdown, his poker mates might want to play close to the vest.