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Peter Liguori to Exit as CEO of Tribune Media

Peter Liguori will step down as president and CEO of Tribune Media in March, the company said Wednesday.

Liguori, the former head of entertainment at Fox and FX, joined Tribune as president and CEO in January 2013, after the completion of its four-year bankruptcy reorganization. He has been rumored as a candidate to succeed Michael Lynton as CEO of Sony Corp.’s Hollywood operations.

“I believe that now is the ideal time for a new leader to steer today’s Tribune. As curious and excited as I am about pursuing new opportunities, I am equally grateful for the achievements, commitment and integrity of this company’s management team and its dedicated employees,” Liguori said.

During his tenure at the helm, the Chicago-based newspaper and TV station owner was transformed into a broadcast and entertainment-focused company. Liguori led the spinoff of its newspaper division into a separate company now known as Tronc. He spearheaded the push to add original scripted programming to the WGN America cabler. He also steered Tribune’s 2013 acquisition of station group owner Local TV, greatly expanding Tribune’s local reach with the addition of 19 stations.

On Liguori’s watch Tribune sold off real estate holdings, including its famed Tribune Tower headquarters in Chicago. Most recently, Tribune set a $560 million deal to sell its Gracenote metadata and listings business to Nielsen.

Liguori’s resignation from Tribune is sure to spur more speculation that he is preparing for a move to Sony Pictures’ Culver City lot. In December he was named an advisor to the board of directors of the Tokyo-based corporate parent. Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman, however, said Liguori’s decision to step down at the end of his contract had no connection to his work with Sony Corp.

“Today’s announcement is totally separate and independent of Mr. Liguori’s role as advisor to Sony Corporation’s Board. Nothing in today’s announcement is relevant to Sony’s recent announcement for Michael Lynton,” Weitman said.

Tribune said its board would work with headhunting firm Korn Ferry to find a successor. Liguori is set to exit during the first week of March. Tribune board member Peter Kern will serve as interim CEO.

“We greatly appreciate Peter’s leadership in the transformation of Tribune Media over the last four years, including the efforts to monetize non-core assets and simplify the company,” said Bruce Karsh, chairman of Tribune Media’s board. “It became clear to Peter and the board that in this last year of his contract it was time to find a new CEO to run the more broadcast-centric company.”

Here is the memo Liguori sent Wednesday to Tribune staffers:

Hello All,

I have some news I want to share with all of you.  I have decided to step down as the company’s President and CEO in the first week of March.  As the board begins the search for your new CEO, Peter Kern will take over as interim CEO.  Peter is a current board member and has more than 25 years of experience as a media executive, investor and advisor.  (We issued the attached press release a few moments ago.)

In looking back at my time at Tribune, all I can say is:  “What a terrific ride we’ve had together.”

During the last four years, we’ve successfully transformed Tribune Media into a modern broadcast and digital media company operating 42 local television stations, a growing cable entertainment network in WGN America, and a variety of digital applications and websites generating more than 60 million monthly unique visitors online.

We gave our newspaper business its independence and a fresh start. Listed the company’s stock on the NYSE.  Built a powerhouse station group with the acquisition of Local TV.  Took the hidden gem of Tribune Media Services and teamed it with Gracenote to form the global leader in video, music, sports and entertainment metadata.  And we rebuilt WGNA into a surging cable network known for quality, noisy and daring original programming.  Above all, we served our shareholders, returning to them nearly $2.5 billion in cash while growing Tribune’s enterprise and competitive value. 

For me, there has never been a dull moment.  It all started ominously enough.  On my very first day, an LAPD officer ticketed me for J-walking as I was crossing a street to meet with the board for the first time.  Since then, I’ve legally crossed many streets all over the nation to visit our outstanding station teams, presented and screened “Underground” at the White House, and saw Vin Scully call his final game on KTLA. 

Please know, I marvel at your dedication.  With zeal and purpose, you serve our audiences, represent our communities and respectfully elevate the reporting profession with outstanding daily news….real news, sourced news, researched news.  Your work and toil will only increase in importance as the times ahead get more challenging.  It’s been a humbling honor to be your teammate and I thank you for that privilege. 

Thanks to your collective efforts, the Tribune Media of today is a streamlined broadcast company, more sharply focused than ever before and poised to seize the right opportunities in the constantly evolving media landscape.  Clearly, my work here is done.  I am at peace with my decision and excited to see a new CEO lead the company to its best future.

I want to thank Larry for his operational leadership, Dana for her indomitable drive to deliver the highest value for our programming, Josh for digitizing our days, Gary for guarding Tribune’s mission, and Matt for brilliantly making the impossible possible.

Of course, I also want to thank Eddie and Chandler. 

For almost 40 years, I have witnessed Eddie’s unparalleled IQ, EQ, and integrity. During our years at Tribune, he has proven himself to be an outstanding strategist, leader, partner and empathetic friend.  With Chandler, since Day One I’ve felt that in partnering with him I was somehow working with Tribune’s breathing history. Chandler channels the spirit of Joseph Medill and Colonel McCormick. There is no one in Tribune’s halls who respects, honors and cares for this company and its employees more than he.

I am heartened that I leave you in capable hands.  I know Peter will undoubtedly rely upon and benefit from the great team he has around him and each and every one of you.

It is with a mix of great excitement over what the future holds for me and a sense of melancholy for what I am leaving behind, that I’ll be moving on to the next challenge.  Let’s plan to talk more at a company-wide town hall tomorrow afternoon at 2 pm ET, 1 pm CT.  I’ll be happy to answer your questions.           

Stay hungry. Stay together and, above all, stay on the sidewalk until the flashing red hand turns green.

Give ’em hell,

Peter

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