After eight years at the helm of John Malone’s Liberty Media Corp., president and CEO Robert Bennett is stepping down, the company said last Wednesday.
Bennett said in a statement that he will retire as president effective April 1, 2006. He will immediately step down as CEO, with Liberty chairman Malone serving as interim CEO until a successor is found. Bennett also said that he will remain on Liberty’s board of directors as well as staying on as president of Discovery Holding Co., which Liberty spun off in July. He will also remain a director of the unit, which includes Liberty’s 50% stake in Discovery Communications Inc. and 100% of Ascent Media Group.
Bennett, known as Dob, has been with Liberty for about 14 years — eight as CEO and six as chief financial officer.
He cited personal reasons for his decision to leave, but others said he might have been edged out due to Liberty’s poor stock performance and Malone’s possible desire to accelerate a breakup of the company.
Liberty’s stock has languished in the past few years in the $8 to $10 range, far from its heyday in the $20 range in 2000. Despite recent efforts to unlock value by spinning off assets, the stock has remained stagnant. It closed Aug. 4 at $8.52, down 13 cents.
One person in the financial community said Bennett had been contemplating retirement for at least a year. “People who know Dob socially have been aware that this was going to happen for awhile,” said the person, who asked not to be named. “Dob’s worth about $200 million, he doesn’t have any desire to do anything else and he doesn’t have a big ego, despite what some people may think. I think he just wants to ride off into the sunset.”
Liberty Media was created in 1990, initially structured as a holding company for equity investments in various media and technology companies. It still holds equity interests in media giants like News Corp., Time Warner Inc., Viacom Inc., and IAC/InterActiveCorp, but shed many technology investments when the Internet stock bubble burst in 2001.
Some analysts had thought Liberty was moving toward becoming an operating company when it bought the remaining interest in QVC Inc. from Comcast for $8 billion in 2004. But most now believe the company is more of a break-up story in light of recent asset spin-offs.
Last year Liberty spun off its international division as Liberty Media International (now Liberty Global) and completed the DHC spin last month. Liberty’s core assets are a controlling interest in shopping channel QVC Inc. and 100% of premium movie channel Starz Encore Group.
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