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One day after the surprise announcement of Tom Freston’s ousting as chief executive of Viacom, Wall Street and the media industry were alive with speculation about a further shake-up at the conglomerate.
The speculation has centred on whether executives close to Mr Freston will choose to remain at the company under its new chief executive, Philippe Dauman, and, conversely, whether the new regime would want to keep them or make further adjustments to the roster.
The uncertainty appeared to be one factor weighing on Viacom’s shares after Sumner Redstone, the company’s chairman and largest shareholder, made the move, citing its poor performance on Wall Street and its awkward transition to the digital age.
The company’s shares fell more than 5 per cent on Tuesday, and then shed a further 2 per cent to $34.14 on Wednesday. In his comments to reporters, Mr Dauman, who served as Viacom’s deputy chairman from 1996 to 2000, went out of his way to praise the company’s talent, and reassure them that he was not considering wholesale changes.
“I do not intend to make a radical shift in strategy,” he said. “Viacom is a healthy company.”
He and Mr Redstone continued the outreach campaign on Wednesday, holding discussions with several key executives.
Some people inside the company said that the efforts had been well received.
Others said that they were still in shock and mourning the loss of Mr Freston, who had unusually deep roots at MTV Networks, the cable networks division at the heart of Viacom.
Mr Freston was one of MTV’s founders 25 years ago, and became the soul of a creative, artist-friendly company as it grew from iconoclast to a corporate powerhouse. He has worked with some key executives, such as Judy McGrath, chief executive of MTV Networks, since the company’s earliest days.
“All changes in senior leadership have the potential to disrupt operations as they ripple through an organisation,” Jessica Reif Cohen, a Merrill Lynch analyst, said on Monday.
“However, the impact is likely to be greater than usual at Viacom, given the length of Mr Freston’s tenure and his yen for unconventional choices for his management team.”
One executive Ms Reif Cohen and other analysts predicted would leave was Michael Dolan, Viacom’s chief financial officer.
The reason was that much of Mr Dolan’s portfolio is likely to go to Thomas Dooley, a former deputy chairman who will rejoin the company in the newly-created position of chief administrative officer.
Michael Wolf, a former McKinsey consultant who was hired last November as president of MTV Networks and given the task of developing the company’s digital strategy, has also been speculated about.
So, too, has Brad Grey, the head of Paramount Pictures, who was last year recruited by Mr Freston to fix the Viacom division after running one of Hollywood’s most successful talent management companies.
Mr Grey was not available to comment on Wednesday.
However, speculation about his job first emerged in February, when Viacom hired Stacey Snider, the longtime head of Universal Pictures, to run its newly-acquired DreamWorks live-action studio.
It gained new momentum two weeks ago when Sumner Redstone publicly dumped actor Tom Cruise, who had a 14-year production deal at Paramount, without first informing the studio chief or Mr Freston.