Six members of the extended Ochs-Sulzberger family are being groomed for leadership of the New York Times Co., publisher Pinch Sulzberger, 62, said today during the “Media Minds” session held at New York’s Bryant Park Grill.
Sulzberger assured the audience the family business isn’t going to be sold any time soon. The complexity and structure of the NYTC family ownership makes it impossible for an outsider to buy the paper without its consent. The family trust owns 90 percent of Class B stock.
Sulzberger and vice chairman cousin Michael Golden are in constant touch with relatives who are deeply committed to the independence of the flagship newspaper and its mission of journalistic excellence.
The difference between the Ochs-Sulzberger and Bancroft family, which sold Dow Jones & Co. to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, is that members work at and serve on the NYTC board, he said.
For instance, Sulzberger, who took the publisher role in 1992 from his dad, Punch, joined the paper in 1978 as Washington correspondent.
The company’s latest proxy lists a half-dozen employees from the Ochs-Sulzberger family. Its board includes Steven Green, Sulzberger’s brother-in-law, and Carolyn Greenspan, daughter of a cousin of fellow board members Golden and Sulzberger.
The controlling family is willing to “suck it up” during tough times as evidenced by the dividend cut in the aftermath of the 2009 meltdown.
Though they didn’t like it, family members unanimously backed the reduction, according to Sulzberger.
Moderator Alex Jones, a NYT alum who remembers a younger Sulzberger “running around the newsroom in his stocking feet like he owned the place,” asked about the role of Mexican investor and billionaire Carlos Slim, owner of 17 percent of Class A shares.
Slim, whose investment bailed out the Times, is a “passive investor” who hasn’t even asked for a seat on the board, said Sulzberger.
President CEO Mark Thompson added that he has less contact with Slim than other major shareholders.
The BBC director-general was hired November 2012 as CEO to bring new blood to the enterprise, said Sulzberger. Though the family could “run the company in its sleep,” it needed new ideas for growth, he added.
Thompson sketched out the NYT future geared to “native advertising,” new products (Upshot, New York Times Now), videos and mobile. He promised that high-quality written journalism would remain at the core of the paper.
The company’s future is not restrained by capital requirements, but by “brainpower” needed to develop ideas to drive innovation, said Thompson.
Citing past need for presses, trucks, paper and newsprint to fuel expansion in the era of print, Sulzberger said growth costs a lot less than it did 25 years ago.
The Knight Foundation funded the Media Minds meeting, while Gannett/USA served as media partner of the event, produced by Catherine Gay Communications.