Getting a chance to lead one of the four major broadcast networks — NBC, CBS, ABC or Fox — is rare. A woman has never had the CEO spot at any of them.
That should change, and CBS Corp. should be the company that changes it.
Joe Ianniello, Moonves’ chief operating officer, is acting as the company’s interim CEO while Dick Parsons, the company’s interim chairman, is leading the effort to decide on a full-time replacement. CBS has spoken with executive search firms Heidrick & Struggles and Spencer Stuart to help with the search, which will kick off in earnest in the next few weeks, according to people familiar with the matter who declined to identify themselves because the process is private. A CBS spokesman declined to give a timeline on the search process, though people familiar with the matter expect a decision by early 2019.
The search will be methodical, as many of CBS’s directors are new and have to figure out what the company should do next. Controlling shareholder Shari Redstone named six new independent directors in September after the Moonves scandal. These board members need to familiarize themselves with the company and determine a strategic direction: should CBS stay as a standalone company or buyer of smaller media companies, or should it look to sell? The answer will inform the CEO search.
Whichever way they go, selecting a female executive for the job would have obvious and immediate positive effects on a company culture that has been mired in sexual misconduct scandals.
In addition to Moonves, “CBS This Morning” co-host Charlie Rose lost his job after The Washington Post reported eight women said he sexually harassed them. Three women have subsequently sued him and CBS News, which they claim knew about Rose’s behavior for decades. Jeff Fager, the former Chairman of CBS News and former Executive Producer of “60 Minutes,” also lost his job after threatening a reporter for looking into allegations of sexual harassment against him.
Hiring a woman would also break a particularly resistant glass ceiling. Very few media companies are run by women.
There are a number of viable candidates — too many to list here. But CNBC spoke with some current media executives about who they’d recommend for the job:
- Anne Sweeney. Sweeney was the former co-chair of Disney Media. Prior to that, she was the president of the ABC Television Group and president of the Disney Channel. She’s also been CEO and chairman of FX Networks from 1993 to 1996 and had a variety of roles at Nickelodeon. She has experience helping to lead a broadcast network (ABC) and cable channels, giving her an experience overlap with CBS Corp., which owns the network, Showtime, half of the CW and other smaller cable networks, among other assets. She’s also on the board of Netflix, giving her a window into the company that’s most responsible for the enormous transition happening in traditional media.
- Nancy Dubuc. Dubuc became Vice Media’s CEO earlier this year after leaving her post as A+E Networks president and CEO. Vice may have made a similar cultural decision to select a woman as CEO after accusations of sexual harassment were revealed by The New York Times. Contractual issues with Dubuc’s recent hiring may make poaching her difficult for CBS. But Dubuc’s leadership in the top position puts her on a short list of qualified candidates.
- Susan Wojcicki. The CEO of Google‘s YouTube since 2014 is already one of the most powerful people in media, and may see the top spot at CBS as a demotion, given that YouTube’s theoretical standalone valuation — $160 billion according to a JPMorgan estimate — dwarfs CBS’s. But the allure of running all aspects of a company could be tempting.
- Indra Nooyi. The former PepsiCo CEO (and still chairman) doesn’t have any media experience but knows how to run a large company under the public eye. While Nooyi may not be interested in the job, leaving Pepsi to run a big media company isn’t without precedent. Mike White, who was vice chairman and PepsiCo International CEO as part of his nearly two decades at the company, left the job in 2009 to take over as DirecTV’s CEO.
The safest choice could be interim CEO Ianniello, who has immediately addressed CBS’s culture problems and has tried to elevate others within the business since taking over as CEO, according to people within the company.
Ianniello may also be the front-runner, as the company is already picking top executives without having named a new CEO.
Just this week, CBS named David Nevins, the CEO of Showtime, as Chief Creative Officer, in charge of picking programming throughout the company. CBS also appointed a chief financial officer this week, and it was a woman — Christina Spade, who was promoted from Showtime.
The appointments underscore the board’s confidence in Ianniello, according to a person familiar with the matter. CBS could have waited to name top executives until it chose a CEO, allowing that person to pick his or her own team, if it had already ruled out Ianniello.
Parsons may also choose someone he knows from his days at Time Warner. Former Turner CEO John Martin and former Time Warner executive vice president Olaf Olafsson both have history with Parsons. Starz Chief Operating Officer Jeff Hirsch also has ties to Time Warner, which owned Time Warner Cable, where he was an executive, until it spun off the cable provider in 2009.
But while the board has to pick whomever will best maximize shareholder value, a safe choice would blow a big opportunity. This month marks one year since the first public reporting on Harvey Weinstein. While executives have departed, few women have taken their place. There’s no better company to make a statement and forge a new path for media leadership than CBS.