A small group of protestors chanted “No money for Les” outside of CBS Corp.’s annual shareholders meeting in New York on Tuesday, but inside there were no questions from shareholders about the sexual misconduct scandal that has enveloped the company and former chairman-CEO Leslie Moonves.
The meeting held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was concluded in less than 30 minutes. Interim chairman Strauss Zelnick told several dozen shareholders in attendance that the company’s search for a new CEO was “in process” and “will wrap up in due course.”
Shareholders focused their questions on such topics as the state of CBS’ program development and whether the company should pursue advertising opportunities in the sports betting field. Zelnick and CBS chief legal officer Lawrence Tu did most of the talking. The entire board of directors of the company was present, including Frederick Terrell, vice chairman of investment banking and capital markets at Credit Suisse, who was introduced in the company’s most recent proxy as a new member.
CBS’ acting CEO Joseph Ianniello was in attendance and fielded questions about CBS’ strategy and long-term plans. “We expect that to continue to grow,” he said of sports betting as a content and advertising opportunity for CBS.
A man who identified himself as a former CBS News correspondent complained that he had long been owed expenses by CBS.
CBS has been in a fair amount of turmoil since the summer, when allegations of sexual misconduct began to surface involving Moonves, including some incidents dating back decades. CBS’ longtime leader was forced out on Sept. 9, which coincided with an overhaul of CBS’ board of directors. Now Moonves is awaiting the results of an internal investigation into his behavior and the company culture that will determine whether he will be granted any of the $120 million in severance that he is due under his contract.
Revelations last week in the New York Times about the results of the investigation conducted during the past five months have made it all but certain that CBS will deny Moonves his severance, citing that he was removed for violations of the company’s sexual harassment policies. Moonves is expected to mount a legal challenge through arbitration, insuring that the sordid drama will continue for some time.
As of Monday evening, CBS’ 11-member board had not formally been presented with the findings of the investigation handled by the law firms Covington & Burling and Debevoise & Plimpton. But the board did discuss what was described as the “disturbing” leak of a draft report to the Times that included damning allegations against Moonves, including reports that he kept a woman on staff for the purpose of providing him with oral sex on call — a claim Moonves has strongly denied through a spokesman.
Board members were said to have discussed the potential legal complications of the leaks to the Times. The board discussed the possibility of the leak violating the terms of the non-disclosure agreement that Moonves and the company signed in September. Mary Jo White, lead investigator for Debevoise & Plimpton, apologized to the board for the failure to keep a tight lid on the investigation details, according to the Wall Street Journal.
CBS’ five new board members were easily ratified in the shareholder vote Tuesday with 98% approval. CBS vice chair Shari Redstone, the controlling shareholder who instigated the changes to the board, received praise from one shareholder during the meeting.