Shari Redstone was under a ton of pressure when she arrived in Sun Valley, Idaho, earlier this month for the annual Allen & Co. conference of media moguls and tech titans. But she didn’t show it.
Redstone, the controlling shareholder of CBS and Viacom, was upbeat and cheery throughout the week of the high-powered gathering in the mountain resort. At one point she joked with the ever-present photographers and did a spontaneous happy dance to demonstrate her enthusiasm for the enlightening speakers and programming at the conference.
At the same time, Redstone politely but firmly refused to talk to reporters about the turmoil in her professional life, particularly the pending lawsuit from CBS that aims to dilute her voting power in the company.
Now that the Leslie Moonves sexual misconduct scandal could change the dynamic at CBS, Redstone’s next moves will be closely watched in many quarters. Her efforts to exert influence at CBS have been met with skepticism, anger and even derision in the past. But with Moonves severely weakened, the path could clear for Redstone to assert herself even more.
Redstone has made no bones of her interest in bringing CBS and Viacom back together (the companies were merged in 2000 and split up again in 2006 by her father, Sumner Redstone). The CBS board hasn’t hidden its objection to a merger, given Viacom’s poor track record for most of the past decade.
Redstone showed real steel in 2016 by driving sweeping changes at Viacom. She spearheaded the ouster of chairman-CEO Philippe Dauman and used her voting clout to bring new blood onto a board that had continually rewarded Dauman with huge paydays despite the company’s deteriorating performance.
Sources close to the situation say Redstone’s focus on CBS is ensuring that the board is composed of strong members with relevant media-biz experience. She is also concerned about reports that the workplace culture at CBS can be challenging for women — something CBS veterans say has been blown wildly out of proportion by a few bad apples in a company with some 20,000 employees.
As Redstone navigates the crisis unfolding at CBS, her trusted advisers include Jill Krutick, a former Wall Street analyst and current board member of Redstone’s National Amusements Inc. holding company; Robert Klieger, an attorney and a CBS board member; and Jonathan Miller, a partner in Redstone’s Advancit Capital investment vehicle. She also relies on the counsel of her three adult children — Tyler Korff, Kimberlee Korff Ostheimer and Brandon Korff — and her son-in-law, Jason Ostheimer, who is a partner at Advancit.
Redstone has made history as the first woman to be in control of such a large swath of a U.S. media business. The events of the next few months will likely make or break her reputation as a mogul to be reckoned with.