Warner Bros. sets exec succession plan

Meyer extends through '13; Horn steps down in April

You’re all in this together. That’s the message Time Warner topper Jeff Bewkes has sent to the troika of execs poised to inherit the top job at Warner Bros.

Bewkes put an end Wednesday to the rampant speculation about the succession question at Warners by unveiling a long-term management plan under which three execs will share CEO-like power rather than compete for it: motion picture group prexy Jeff Robinov, TV group topper Bruce Rosenblum and home entertainment chief Kevin Tsujihara.

Chairman-CEO Barry Meyer will extend his contract through December 2013; studio prexy-chief operating officer Alan Horn will step down in April, eight months before the end of his current contract; while Robinov, Rosenblum and Tsujihara, who had all been seen as contenders for Meyer’s job, will retain their titles and be appointed to the newly created office of the president.

The three execs will report to Meyer. Once Meyer steps down at the end of 2013, the trio will report directly to Bew-kes, insiders said. There is no plan to appoint a direct COO successor for Horn. The tri-part setup mirrors the structure Bewkes put in place at HBO after Chris Albrecht abruptly departed in 2007.

Meyer had been set to exit at the end of 2011 when his contract expired. New structure and the extension for Meyer is designed to give the troika time to “figure out how to work together,” in the words of one studio insider.By multiple accounts, Horn’s departure was moved up in order to give Robinov more authority in the film division and to put him on a par with Rosenblum and Tsujihara. Robinov previously reported to Horn, while Rosenblum reportedly directly to Meyer and Tsujihara reported to Horn and Meyer. Horn will remain a consultant to the studio through the end of 2013.

Hollywood had been abuzz for months with the rumor that Meyer would extend his contract in order to allow Bewkes more time to make a decision. But in fact, formal confirmation of the plan was communicated only to Robinov, Rosenblum and Tsujihara by Meyer on Tuesday.

Wednesday’s midday announcement was short on details. Sources said the trio have not inked new employment contracts reflecting the change; all three are believed to have at least three years remaining on their existing pacts.

The plan establishes clear power-sharing authority for the three, who will divvy up corporate responsibilities. While there may be growing pains during the transition period — hence the need for Meyer to serve as a buffer — the triumvirate plan was seen as a better solution than bringing in an outside exec, which was never seriously considered, or elevating one of the three.

Horn had not functioned as a traditional corporate COO but rather concentrated his energies on overseeing the film unit. It’s understood that Rosenblum and Tsujihara already handled many corporate and financial management functions for Meyer, as both execs hail from business backgrounds. Robinov, on the other hand, is rooted in creative and marketing duties for the film studio.

With Horn’s departure, Robinov will have sole greenlight authority over features in six months.

“This plan is what makes the most sense for the company,” Horn told Daily Variety. “It’s really (Robinov’s) turn now.”

Meyer and Horn have headed Warner Bros. since October 1999, when they replaced longtime toppers Bob Daly and Terry Semel. Since then, Warners has been at or near the top of the box office in most years — thanks largely to betting big on tentpoles such as the Harry Potter pics, “The Dark Knight,” “Sherlock Holmes” and “Inception.”

Horn said Wednesday that his biggest accomplishment has been execution of the tentpole strategy on a worldwide basis. Horn’s overseen all six Potter films, which have combined for $5.4 billion in worldwide box office.

“We’ve grown the business of event movies — multi-quadrant product for the global market,” he added. “At first blush, it seems more risky, but it’s actually less risky if you do it right.”

Early last year, Warner Bros. gave Meyer and Horn two-year contract extensions that ran through the end of 2011. But there had been increasing speculation in recent months that Meyer would stay with the studio beyond the end of next year. Both execs said Wednesday that they’d been in talks with Bewkes even before the extensions were announced as to the best configuration of the succession plan.

Meyer, who’s been at the studio since 1971, emphasized that the three-man office of the president should not be viewed as a competition to determine which of the trio will rise to the top CEO post. It’s more reflective of a desire to deal most effectively with fast-changing scenarios such as narrowing release windows and the convergence of digital technologies.

“This is not a bake-off situation,” he added. “Warner Bros. has always been about being more than the sum of its parts.”

In a statement, Bewkes said he felt “this phased plan was in the best interest of Warner Bros. and its businesses. Barry and Alan have overseen the most successful years in the company’s history, and I am very pleased that they are remaining to guide this transition and to ensure as little disruption to our operations as possible.”

There was predictable skepticism in the biz as to whether a tri-part management team would be effective for the studio.

But if turf wars and personality clashes can be avoided, there’s no question that Robinov, Rosenblum and Tsujihara have complementary skill sets. And they come from varied backgrounds.

Robinov has been with the studio since 1997, when he transitioned from agenting at ICM to senior veep of production for WB. He advanced to prexy of production in 2002 and was upped to prexy of the Warner Bros. Pictures Group in November 2007.

Of the three, Rosenblum has the longest tenure on the Burbank lot. He joined the studio as part of its 1989 acquisition of Lorimar Television. Rosenblum rose through the business ranks under Meyer and has long been one of Meyer’s closest confidants. Most recently, Rosenblum was appointed prexy of the Warner Bros. TV Group in September 2005.

Tsujihara came to Warners in 1994 as director of special projects in the finance wing, where he helped oversee its investment in the Six Flags theme park operation. He quickly segued into the corporate strategy and business development ranks. He served as head of the studio’s new-media wing before being upped to prexy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment in October 2005.

Horn has a reputation for affability among the creative community and has remained actively involved in all aspects of the moviemaking process, including reading scripts and developing marketing strategies. Though he’s studio president, he’s had little direct involvement in TV or homevideo.

There was instant speculation that Greg Silverman, the motion picture group’s exec veep of creative development, will be promoted to president of production, a post that’s been vacant since the start of the year.

Horn, who was a founder and head of Castle Rock Entertainment before he joined Warners, downplayed the chatter that he was unhappy about being elbowed aside to make more room for Robinov.

Horn noted that he’s been working since he was 14. “I’m looking forward to not having any plans,” he said.