In previous books, I’ve chronicled and discussed the Redstone empire which encompasses both CBS and Viacom, at the moment. Shari Redstone’s climb to power is an interesting study in how a woman with grit and persistence can wind her way through the vagaries of board rooms and corporate centers of power, including that of her father, to manage to come out in control.
As a result of her determined actions, Ms. Redstone wound up in a position that no American woman has held previously – the control of a media empire worth more than $30 billion. It appears to me that Shari Redstone came to the fight well-equipped from both natural and environmental circumstances – she was present, for example, at the age of 8 in 1963, when her father, grandfather and uncle unveiled the first indoor theater of National Amusements, previously a drive-in outdoor theater group. The three Redstone men then worked through the ’60s and ’70s to expand, first, to indoor theaters, then to multiplexes, and ultimately to control of MTV, Paramount Pictures and Simon & Schuster. Shari Redstone was always her father’s favorite – she’d inherited his auburn hair, blue eyes, intelligence, combativeness and obsessive streak, according to an article in the WSJ. In her early adult years, she focused on public service work and, at the same time, she studied law and became a lawyer like her father and brother. The first break between father and daughter came when Summer Redstone decided to keep the son-in-law that Shari was divorcing on at the firm. To appease his daughter, he recruited her into the firm and by 1995 she was the executive vice chairman of National Amusements. She steered the theater chain though troubling times during the late 1990’s, keeping National Amusements afloat while competitors went bankrupt. It was only after Summer Redstone’s wife of 52 years divorced him in 2002, however that Shari Redstone gained true power – she and her brother owned a large portion of minority shares and Redstone needed their cooperation to ensure he didn’t lose control of the company. Shari Redstone gave her full cooperation (her brother did not), and she was named her father’s successor as chairman of Viacom. In 2005, Redstone split Viacom and CBS and tapped his daughter to be vice chairman. She was not afraid to use her position to disagree with her father – particularly in relation to his obsession with video game maker Midway Games, in which he invested heavily. Shari Redstone was called on to bail him out, but was the lone opposing voice on the board, when he wanted to continue to invest in Midway. It was at that point that she realized she would not be able to perform properly with the male-domiinatrd board who sided with Summer Redstone’s positions. Thus, she hired lawyers and began negotiations for her exit from the firm. But the financial crisis hit and Summer Redstone’s Midway bets threatened to cause National Amusements to lose control of CBS and Viacom. It was at this point that Shari Redstone led the debt restructuring effort and ended up with control of the company’s Russian theaters plus a lifetime employment contract and other perks. By 2013, Summer Redstone was living with women half his age and giving away large sums of money – up to $150 million. By 2015, after a series of efforts by Shari Redstone, the women were gone from her father’s mansion and his will and reconciliation with his daughter began. Leaving her free to take action to oust long-time Redstone allies from the board at Viacom in 2016. But, it didn’t end there – the tussle continues at the present time, with CBS’ suing to have Ms. Redstone and her family removed from control of the company. (See an earlier post on this topic.)
ALL THE MOVING PARTS – a fascinating study in how some of those parts were brought together and how others were possibly lost. . .
SHARI POWER, CBS and Viacom