Zell Discusses Job Cuts and Nixing Burkle-Broad

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By: E&P Staff

Amid all the questions about the finances and fallout from the pending sale of the Tribune Co. to Sam Zell, one issue has remained in the background: What are his political beliefs and will they influence the editorial pages of the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and the company’s other newspapers?

According to reports, Zell had been an equal opportunity funder in recent years, playing it safe by donating about equally to each major party and candidates for president.

But in a wide-ranging interview with the Chicago Tribune published today he did seem to reveal that his political views might tend to be fairly conservative. Asked to name his favorite columnists he said, Zell named Charles Krauthammer, Thomas Friedman and David Brooks.

“I don’t pay much attention to the L.A. Times editorial page,” he said, referring to the moderately liberal Times. But he added, “Do I look naive enough to think I have any influence about what people write?”

He also disclosed, “I’ve never read online. I don’t have a Blackberry. I read five newspapers a day, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, LA Times, Financial Times. And I read everything. I read Forbes, Fortune, Business Week.”

He also left the door open to a possible deal for the Times involving David Geffen but ruled out working with Eli Broad and Ron Burkle. Zell said of Geffen: “I had dinner with him once but that’s not enough to have an opinion other than that he’s a delightful character. I don’t know how to answer that question. I can tell you I wouldn’t consider a deal with Burkle and Broad but that’s a different story.”

An exchange about job cuts went this way.

Q: The issue over here is the job cuts and the cost cutting. Are there going to be job cuts, do you think? And how do you feel about the amount of cost cutting that’s gone on?

Zell: First of all, I really am not in a position to comment on what’s happened in the past. I just don’t know. I’ve never been involved in any situation where there wasn’t any kind of cost cutting that wasn’t either terrible or worse in the opinion of the people who worked in the company.

I’m a great believer in a meritocracy. It’s really simple, my whole goal in life is to build businesses and to build jobs and to create thriving enterprises. And my standard is that they just got to perform. And the $64,000 question is, ‘How do we up the revenue? How do we in effect make this into a much more viable business?’ That’s our focus.

To be honest with you, I don’t know anything about job cuts. I don’t, and I think that’s all in the realm of [Tribune Co. Chairman Dennis FitzSimons) and the CEO. My focus is not to look at this thing and see how we can eliminate one more table leg. Because frankly, eliminating this or eliminating that isn’t going to make this work. What’s going to make this work is raising revenue and that’s the goal.

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