Zell Losing Control?

Creditors may take Trib

By Steve Rhodes
|  Monday, Jun 8, 2009  |  Updated 9:00 AM CDT
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Zell Losing Control?

AP

Sam Zell apparently didn't realize what he was biting off when he took over the Tribune Company.

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Sam Zell may be out soon as owner of the Tribune Company.

A bunch of bankers would be in.

"The Tribune Co. and its creditors are in the early stages of negotiating a plan of reorganization in U.S. Bankruptcy Court that sources said likely would transfer control of the troubled media conglomerate from Chicago billionaire Sam Zell to a group of large banks and investors that holds $8.6 billion in senior debt," the Tribune reports. "The plan is still taking shape, the sources said, and much could change as negotiations continue."

It would be a stunning denouement - and represent total failure - for Chicago's richest man. He hasn't even managed to sell the Cubs yet.

The company's creditors could retain Zell to run the show, but it's not clear Zell himself would like to stay - or if he's the right person for the job.

"It completely depends on whether the new owners see value in keeping Zell," Douglas Baird, a corporate reorganization specialist at the University of Chicago Law School, told the Trib. "They have to decide: Is the person at the helm when the company went into the storm the most able person to steer it out?"

The only value in keeping Zell would seem to be in retaining continuity as the company tries to work itself out from under the tremendous debt that Zell put it in. And if he had his druthers, Zell would surely be spending his days back in the real estate realm; he never intended owning Tribune to occupy so much of his time.

Former Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun editor John Carroll said last week that "Zell may be a genius in other lines of work, but he is an idiot in terms of journalism."

Zell himself has already acknowledged that he regrets buying Tribune.

"I made a mistake," he told Bloomberg Television in April. "I was too optimistic."

Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review that would like to say We Told You So.

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