Zell Deal Will Bring Quick — And Big — Payday For Top Tribune Execs

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

While anxious Tribune Co. employees and gimlet-eyed Wall Street analysts weigh the benefits and perils of ownership by an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan), one thing is certain: Sam Zell’s $8.5 billion winning bid Monday will make for a big payday for top management.

And a prompt one, too.

Last October, Tribune directors amended the company’s bonus deferral, defined contribution and supplemental retirement plans to allow for quick lump-sum payments due top executives under the plans in the event of a “change in ownership or effective control of the company, or in the ownership of a substantial portion of the assets of the company.”

Zell’s $34 per share bid will also results in some substantial executive nest eggs. Chairman, President and CEO Dennis FitzSimons, for instance, would receive $21.3 million for his shares, based on the number reported in February in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Based on his latest filing, Tribune Publishing President Scott Smith, who is also publisher of the flagship Chicago Tribune, would have holdings worth a cash value of $9.2 million.

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