Sam Zell up close

The Chicago Tribune got a lot of face time with Sam Zell and he didn't disappoint. Basically, he said what winning bidders of big corporations usually say: he needs to figure out how the place works. It also sounds like he won't have much appetite for the romper room atmosphere that's become the LAT. Which in the Zell way of thinking means if your boss tells you to do something, you do it - end of story. Anyway, here are some snippets from the extended interview, but I'd strongly recommend going through the entire transcript. It'll give you a good flavor of the guy. (Not sure whether this means anything but it's hard to ignore the fact that the Tribune and WSJ got interviews, but not the LAT.)

Q: There seems to be something going on with the newspaper business.

Zell: Oh, without question. The question is, 'is it a 5 -11 alarm fire or is it a brush fire?' If it's a 5-11 fire we're in big trouble. If it's a brush fire, we're going to figure out how to put it out or make its impact so minuscule as to not to impair the rest of the opportunity.

Q: Do you have a sense of the hose needed to put it out?

Zell: I think I have various ideas. I think my people have various ideas. But frankly, we've been to this movie before. And so we know the first thing we have to do is, no matter what your opinion is, is to listen. Our goal in the near term is to listen to everything that's going on. And hopefully reach some conclusions and then match them up with our own opinions.

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, CEO and President 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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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
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