So what's behind Tribune Co.'s second-largest shareholder hiring buyout firm Blackstone Group as an advisor? A spokesman for the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation said a bunch of options were being considered, including the foundation making its own offer for Tribune or the company's individual assets. Other, more likely avenues include selling their shares on the open market. (An SEC filing this morning indicates as much). Up until now, Tribune management has been able to rely on the foundation, which, by the way, is chaired by Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons. But the Blackstone hire could indicate some unrest over how the company's auction is unfolding. Alexia Quadrani, a Bear Stearns analyst, said in a note to clients that the foundation's move "signals a vote of no confidence in current Tribune management."
Well, perhaps, but here's another delicious wrinkle: the foundation will be forming its own advisory committee on how to deal with the buyout mess, to be run by James C. Dowdle and John W. Madigan. Does Madigan's name sound familiar? He had been Tribune's chairman and CEO, replaced by FitzSimons (er, yeah, the same guy who chairs the foundation). There's been low-level speculation about Madigan's possible participation in the Tribune bidding. Whether he or the foundation are prepared to show their cards is anyone's guess. Meanwhile, Tribune shares have fallen under $31 a share in this morning's trading, not exactly a show of confidence by Wall Street. Its 52-week high was $34.28 in September. AP Bloomberg
*Connecting the dots: An alert reader points out that after leaving Tribune, Madigan joined Chicago-based Madison Dearborn Partners as a "special partner," helping the firm find potential acquisitions. It just so happens that Madison Dearborn has teamed up with Apollo and Providence Equity Partners Inc. in making one of the low-ball bids for Tribune. Getting a little incestuous, eh?