CBS Taps Korn Ferry to Find Next CEO

November 8, 2018 – CBS has retained the services of Korn Ferry as it begins its search for a new CEO to replace Les Moonves following sexual misconduct allegations. Joe Ianniello, the company’s chief operating officer, has assumed the role of president and acting CEO.

The search is expected to take four to six weeks to produce a new leader. The media giant held preliminary discussions with Korn Ferry, Heidrick & Struggles and Spencer Stuart, according to sources, for the coveted assignment which is now one of the most watched succession dramas playing out in the #MeToo era.

“Never has it been more important for us to make it abundantly clear that CBS has a steadfast commitment to diversity, inclusion and a safe and positive working environment,” Mr. Ianniello wrote in a memo sent last week to CBS’ 20,000 employees worldwide. “This is an integral part of our growth plan as together we unlock the immense talents across our entire employee base.”

Possible Women Candidates

Hiring a woman would break a particularly resistant glass ceiling at CBS, as few media companies are led by women. In fact, getting the opportunity to lead one of the four major broadcast networks – CBS, ABC, NBC or Fox – would be a coup; a woman has never held the CEO position at any of them. There are a number of viable candidates — too many to list here. But CNBC spoke with some current media executives about whom they’d recommend for the job. Among them:

  • Anne Sweeney. Ms. Sweeney is the former co-chair of Disney Media. Prior to that, she was president of the ABC Television Group and president of the Disney Channel. She’s also been CEO and chairman of FX Networks and had a variety of roles at Nickelodeon. Ms. Sweeney has experience helping to lead a broadcast network (ABC) and cable channels, giving her an experience overlap with CBS Corp., which owns the network, Showtime, half of the CW and other smaller cable networks, among other assets. She’s also on the board of Netflix, giving her a window into one company that’s most responsible for the enormous transition underway in traditional media.
  • Nancy Dubuc. Ms. Dubuc became Vice Media’s CEO earlier this year after leaving her post as A+E Networks president and CEO. Vice may have made a similar cultural decision to select a woman as CEO after accusations of sexual harassment were revealed by the New York Times. Contractual issues with Ms. Dubuc’s recent hiring may make poaching her difficult for CBS. But Ms. Dubuc’s leadership in the top position puts her on a short list of qualified candidates.

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  • Susan Wojcicki. The CEO of Google’s YouTube since 2014 is already one of the most powerful people in media, and may see the top spot at CBS as a demotion, given that YouTube’s theoretical standalone valuation — $160 billion, according to a JPMorgan estimate — dwarfs that of CBS. But the allure of running all aspects of a company could be tempting for her.
  • Indra Nooyi. The former PepsiCo CEO (and still chairman) lacks media experience but knows how to run a large company in the public eye. While Ms. Nooyi may have no interest in the job, leaving Pepsi to run a big media company does have precedent. Mike White, who was vice chairman and PepsiCo International CEO as part of his nearly two decades at the company, left that job in 2009 to take over as DirecTV’s CEO.

Of course, a number of seasoned men are available for the top job at CBS as well. But in the #MeToo environment, which has brought down 201 powerful men in just one year, nearly half their replacements have been women.

Media & Entertainment Recruiting

Today’s media industry is undergoing a fundamental transformation. Media are evolving to a more direct-to-consumer model, as apps, social media, mobile and streaming become preferred formats for information and entertainment consumption, according to Korn Ferry. As these trends change and consumer patterns evolve, future leaders must keep pace with a unique combination of vision, cross-platform experience, the agility to respond to new sources of data, and — perhaps most importantly — the capacity to build and inspire diverse teams with varied skill-sets, the search firm said.

Korn Ferry’s media and entertainment practice helps senior leadership develop strategies for understanding the changing consumer marketplace, adoption of cutting-edge technologies, user experience and monetization. The firm offers a full suite of talent solutions, including strategic search, high-potential development programs, one-on-one executive coaching, strategic talent design and succession planning.

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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