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Richard Parsons Steps Down as CBS Chairman; Strauss Zelnick to Take Role

Media entrepreneur Strauss Zelnick replaced Richard Parsons as the chairman of the CBS Corp. board of directors Sunday, an unexpected switch that takes place as the venerable media company seeks to remake itself after the recent controversial ouster of former CEO Leslie Moonves.

Parsons cited health reasons for his decision to step down. “As some of you know, when I agreed to join the board and serve as the interim chair, I was already dealing with a serious health challenge – multiple myeloma – but I felt that the situation was manageable. Unfortunately, unanticipated complications have created additional new challenges, and my doctors have advised that cutting back on my current commitments is essential to my overall recovery,” Parsons said in a statement Sunday night. “I trust CBS’ distinguished Board, now led by Strauss Zelnick, as well as CBS’ strong management team led by Joe Ianniello, will continue to successfully guide this Company into its very bright future.”

CBS said its board of directors made a “unanimous decision” Sunday to appoint Zelnick as interim chairman.

CBS has been charting a new course for itself since Moonves was forced out in September in the wake of revelations in two New Yorker articles that several women alleged he made unwanted sexual advances to them over the course of several years. Moonves has disputed some of the accusations. But his departure has resulted in a reworked board of directors and an interim CEO, CBS President Joe Ianniello, who has in recent weeks moved to put new executives over several important company functions, including human resources and entertainment.

CBS has hired two different law firms to probe the Moonves allegations as well as its the company’s internal culture. Its next annual meeting is slated for December 11, and there is some hope the legal inquiries might be resolved by that time.

In Zelnick, CBS has an executive who has worked in many different parts of the media industry through the arc of his career. He is chairman and CEO of videogame company Take-Two Interactive Software and a former CEO of BMG Entertainment. He also served once as chief operating officer of 20th Century Fox.

Parsons’ departure may come as a surprise to investors and company observers. The former Time Warner chief was said to have played an instrumental role in advising Shari Redstone, who leads CBS’ controlling shareholder, National Amusements, on the makeup of a new board of directors, which CBS put into place in September. He was also believed to be involved in working with the board on a search for a new CEO. Ianniello is one of the candidates, but outsiders with ties to Parsons, including former Turner CEO John Martin have been cited as being under possible consideration as well.

 

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