Founder Sumner Redstone steps down after also resigning as CBS chairman this week
Viacom named CEO Philippe Dauman as chairman at an emergency board meeting Thursday, as Sumner Redstone stepped down to an emeritus position.
The move closes one of the final chapters in the media empire of Redstone.
The 92-year-old mogul, who previously quipped that questions of him stepping down were moot because he would never die, sits atop a two of the biggest media companies in the world. With about 80 percent of their voting stock, his conglomerate controls both CBS and cable giant Viacom, which is parent of such businesses as MTV, Comedy Central and Paramount Pictures.
In a flurry of activity Wednesday, CBS announced that Redstone had resigned as its chairman this week and that CEO Les Moonves would take his place. Viacom said its board would meet Thursday.
Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman appeared to face opposition as a candidate for chairman. Shari Redstone, the mogul’s daughter and vice chairman of CBS and Viacom, hinted she would not support Dauman as her father’s successor, in a statement she issued Wednesday since he is also a trustee of National Amusements, the parent company for both Viacom and CBS.
Thursday, however, Viacom said Dauman would succeed Redstone as the latter steps down to be chairman emeritus, similar to the transition at CBS. The board asked Shari Redstone to be non-executive chairman, but she declined and and will continue as non-executive vice chair.
William Schwartz, the head of board’s governance and nominating committee, said in a statement that Viacom’s directors have “complete confidence” in Dauman. He added that the board considered the company’s “need for seasoned leadership in this time of unprecedented change” and touted his “unparalleled knowledge” and vision for Viacom.
While the leadership shuffle at CBS has been smooth, Viacom must navigate rockier terrain.
The company’s stock has been among the worst performing in its class in the last year, as investors question its future while audiences migrate to online video and households scale back pay-TV subscriptions.
Mario Gabelli, Viacom’s largest holder of voting stock outside the Redstone family, has called for Viacom to increase transparency about Redstone’s health and consider deals with e-commerce giant Alibaba or cable company AMC.
Activist hedge fund SpringOwl, which has a small holding in Viacom, has called for a complete executive and board purge.
A recent lawsuit has also injected intimate details about Redstone’s health and private life into the public eye. Redstone’s one-time companion, Manuela Herzer, is seeking to be reinstated as the steward of his care should he become incapacitated.
Her suit characterizes Redstone as a “living ghost” unable to follow conversations and sign his own name, Redstone’s lawyers reject the claims, saying she is trying to insinuate herself into his estate after she was removed in October. Dauman took over the role of Redstone’s so-called healthcare agent then.