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Hard Choices

Tom Freston on Life After Sumner Redstone

Sumner Redstone fired me in 2006. In retrospect, I should have noticed some signals. I’d had a rift with him a couple of weeks before, when he said he was firing Tom Cruise for the failure of Mission: Impossible III. That led to a real stand-up screaming match, which I’d never had in 18 years of working for him. He had me over to his house on Labor Day and said, “We’re going to have to let you go.” Then he went on Charlie Rose to say I was fired because I didn’t buy MySpace. He said, “I’m humbled. I hate to lose to Rupert Murdoch.”

I wasn’t ashamed—about a thousand people gave me a standing ovation in the lobby when I left Viacom (VIA) —but I needed to air out and pull back. There were digital media opportunities, calls from private equity companies, offers to be on boards. I flew to Burma for a few weeks to get away from the craziness and came to the conclusion that I didn’t want another corporate job.

I decided to only take on projects that I’m passionate about. Otherwise, why bother? Bono had called me the day after I was fired and said, “F–k him, count your blessings.” He asked me to help him with (Product) RED and the ONE campaign, where I became chairman. I joined the board of the Asia Society and DreamWorks Animation (DWA), and worked with Oprah Winfrey on her new network.

Recently, I’ve become more involved with Moby Media in Afghanistan and Vice Media [a provocative, Brooklyn-based alternative multimedia company]. Moby’s television and radio networks are a great agent of social change in a country I love. Vice has a unique voice and a compelling content that resonates with this generation. It’s hard to establish enduring youth brands like Saturday Night Live, MTV, or Rolling Stone; Vice can be a legitimate player. And I leave time for other adventures, like heading to Zanzibar to listen to music for a week and a half.

I rarely think about MySpace, but who wouldn’t crack a smile when the $580 million deal that supposedly cost you your job sells for $35 million? I’m a bit of a lone wolf now, but I’m having the most fun I’ve ever had. I miss the people and the mission we were on at Viacom. And I’d be remiss not to mention the corporate jet. I think about it every time I’m taking off my shoes to pass through security. — As told to Diane Brady

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