Sorry, Tribune Co. employees. After everything you've been through in the past two years, you won't get to witness the one thing that might, in some small way, make up for it: The spectacle of Sam Zell getting fired as CEO.
Zell deprived his underlings of that pleasure Wednesday by handing over the reins to Randy Michaels, the media conglomerate's chief operating officer since 2008. The good news, for the comeuppance minded, is that Zell can still get booted as Tribune's chairman, since he's hanging onto that post. The bad news: As chairman, he'll "continue to provide the management team with strategic oversight and vision" -- the same oversight and vision that guided Tribune into the ditch it currently occupies.
Zell, a Chicago-area real estate mogul, took over Tribune in December 2007 in an $8.2 billion buyout structured to give him maximum control with minimum personal downside. Only a year later, the newspaper-and-TV station chain filed for Chapter 11. Tribune's creditors are widely expected to put their own management team in place, although the current guys have until Feb. 28 to present their own reorganization plan, thanks to an extension granted Tuesday by the bankruptcy court. To succeed, Tribune's plans will have to placate the company's junior lenders, who assert that Zell committed "fraudulent conveyance" by leading the company in a direction he knew, or should have known, would result in bankruptcy.
Sam Zell out as troubled Tribune's CEO