Kevin Tsujihara’s long tenure at Warner Bros. was saluted Wednesday evening with a reception on the studio lot that drew about 75 people, including his predecessors in the CEO suite, Bob Daly and Barry Meyer.
There was a melancholy air about the gathering in the lobby of the Steven J. Ross Theater because of the circumstances of Tsujihara’s hasty departure. After six years as Warner Bros. chairman-CEO and 25 years with the studio overall, Tsujihara was forced to resign March 18 amid the scandal spurred by the revelation that he had extramarital affair with actress Charlotte Kirk in 2013, and allegations that he used his position to help her land small roles in Warner Bros. movies.
The gathering was hosted by WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey, the former AT&T executive who made the call to force Tsujihara to resign as a result of what Stankey characterized as his “mistakes” that were “inconsistent” with AT&T’s expectations for leaders.
Friday marks Tsujihara’s last day on the job at Warner Bros. He has remained actively engaged as CEO during the past two weeks as the studio prepares to transition the leadership to a trio of interim leaders: Film and TV leaders Toby Emmerich and Peter Roth, respectively, and studio CFO Kim Williams.
Daly, who headed the studio from 1979 to 1999, and Meyer, who was at the helm from 1999 to 2013, both addressed the crowd, praising Tsujihara’s skills as an executive and leader. Stankey also spoke, telling Tsujihara that his “best days” are ahead, according to multiple sources. As the short speeches were made, many in the crowd were teary-eyed, reflecting the strong level of support and respect that Tsujihara continues to enjoy among many studio staffers.
Tsujihara’s wife, Sandy, and teenage son and daughter were also on hand. Roth became emotional as he expressed to the Tsujihara family how much their father is “loved and respected” on the lot, according to multiple sources.
A number of other prominent Warner Bros. alumni were in attendance. The list included former home video chief Warren Lieberfarb, former film distribution head Dan Fellman, Disney Studios chairman (and former WB film chief) Alan Horn, Disney Television Studios chief Craig Hunegs (a former Warner Bros. TV honcho), Quibi content COO Diane Nelson (former head of DC Entertainment), former vice chairman and CFO Ed Romano, and former physical production chief Steve Papazian.
Nelson told Variety that emotions were definitely running high in the crowd and that virtually all of the speakers choked up in their remarks, including Tsujihara. She noted that Tsujihara’s ouster has come at a time when the studio is already adjusting to a new parent company and the lightning-speed changes in the content marketplace.
“It’s a time of real unrest and anxiety and it did an awful lot for people at the company to be able to acknowledge Kevin as a person and as a leader,” Nelson said. “The through-line was that we’re proud of this person as a human being who made a mistake in judgment. It was handled with a sense of elegance and a sense that this could be the start of a rehabilitation process.”
Tsujihara was visibly moved as he addressed the crowd. He thanked his wife and children profusely, and he expressed gratitude to the many staffers who have sought him out during the past two weeks. He spoke of the studio’s famed culture and the familial sense among those who have worked there, past and present. He called Stankey “a good man with a big heart,” according to multiple sources. He cited as an accomplishment of his tenure as CEO the strides the studio has made in fostering diversity at all levels of the company. He cited the success of last summer’s “Crazy Rich Asians” as the kind of movie that would no longer be considered an “exception” to a mainstream studio film slate.
Tsujihara also joked that Stankey didn’t need to work too hard to find his successor because his longtime assistant, Sita Pearson, has been the true power behind his throne for the past six years.
As for his future, Tsujihara didn’t give many hints, but said there were “new mountains” for him to climb, according to multiple sources.
(Pictured: John Stankey, Kevin Tsujihara)