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CBS names business, media veteran Richard Parsons as interim chairman
[NEW YORK] The CBS Corp on Tuesday named Richard Parsons, a long-time business and media executive, as interim chairman of the board of directors — the latest move in a continuing shakeup during what has been a turbulent few months for the company.
Mr Parsons, the former chairman of both Time Warner and Citigroup, replaces Leslie Moonves, who was the company's long-time chief executive and the board's chairman. Earlier this month, CBS negotiated Mr Moonves' departure after new sexual harassment allegations emerged against him. As part of the same deal, the board also installed six new directors, swelling its size to 13.
Mr Parsons had been nominated to become a director earlier this year, and he officially joined as one of the six new board members earlier this month. He was unanimously approved by the CBS board, the company said in a statement, which also announced that two other board members are stepping down.
"Dick Parsons has a combination of deep industry knowledge and unmatched corporate and board experience," Candace Beinecke, the chairwoman of CBS's nominating and governance committee said. "We are fortunate to have Dick in this leadership role."
Mr Parsons is an ally of the company's controlling shareholder, Shari Redstone. Redstone, the board's vice-chairwoman, has pushed for a merger with Viacom, the once-lofty cable company behind MTV and Nickelodeon that she also controls. She had been involved in a protracted legal fight with Moonves, but all parties have now agreed to dismiss the lawsuit.
Ms Redstone and Mr Parsons picked the other new board members that joined earlier this month, three people familiar with the process have told The New York Times.
On Tuesday, the company said that Bruce Gordon and William Cohen — the two long-time board members who are stepping down — had decided to do so in order to "focus on other personal and professional priorities".
Among the highest priorities for the board members who remain will be continuing the company's search for a new chief executive to replace Mr Moonves. (The CBS board has enlisted two law firms to lead an inquiry into the claims against Moonves and the wider workplace culture at the network.) Joseph Ianniello, the chief operating officer of CBS and one of Mr Moonves' closest advisers, has been named interim chief executive.
"We have a distinguished and independent board that is steadfast in its commitment to serve the best interests of all shareholders," Mr Parsons, 70, said in a statement. "I think I speak for all board members when I say I look forward to learning more about CBS' compelling opportunities and how we can help guide and support the company's growth."
The CBS Corp has been plagued by scandal and infighting for much of the year, most of it involving Mr Moonves or Ms Redstone — or both.
In May, CBS, along with several directors, sued Ms Redstone, claiming she had breached her fiduciary duty to the company's shareholders by pushing for a merger with Viacom. The lawsuit exposed deep factions within the board, with one group apparently loyal to Ms Redstone, another to Mr Moonves and others debating which direction the company should take.
The settlement earlier this month was intended to resolve the showdown over the potential merger. It also resolved the exit of Mr Moonves, who is credited with turning CBS into television's most-watched network, but has been under intense pressure since July. That month, The New Yorker published an article by the investigative journalist Ronan Farrow in which six women accused Mr Moonves of sexual harassment. Then, in September, the magazine published another article by Mr Farrow in which six more women detailed claims against Moonves.
As part of the agreement, the network said it would donate US$20 million to one or more organisations that support equality for women in the workplace. The donation will be deducted from a potential severance benefit to Mr Moonves, although he could still walk away with more than US$120 million, depending on the results of the investigation.