Tom Dooley Is Ready for His Close-Up in Redstone Viacom Empire

  • Interim CEO may ultimately get the top job permanently
  • ‘He’s a very capable, well-liked guy. He knows the business’

After decades at Viacom Inc., Tom Dooley has a 42-day audition to prove he’s the right guy to run the company.

Tom Dooley.

Tom Dooley.

Photographer: Scott Gries/Invision for MTV/AP Images

Dooley, chief operating officer since 2010, will be interim chief executive officer through Sept. 30 under a deal approved by the board, according to a company memo Friday. The accord ends a long-running feud between the Redstone family, which controls Viacom, and Philippe Dauman, who has been CEO for 10 years. Dauman will exit with a severance package of about $72 million, people with knowledge of the matter said.

Like Dauman, Dooley has spent most of his career working for Sumner Redstone, the 93-year-old mogul who owns 80 percent of voting shares in the parent of the movie studio Paramount Pictures and dozens of cable channels including MTV and Comedy Central. Redstone’s daughter Shari, Viacom’s vice chairman, was the driving force behind the move to get rid of Dauman.

Now Dooley must persuade her and other directors he can restore the luster of a company whose networks defined pop culture for most of the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s. Having worked in cable television almost since its inception, he has a deep knowledge of the industry and could be a smart choice to run Viacom, said Matt Harrigan, an analyst at Wunderlich Securities. “He’s a very capable, well-liked guy,” he said. “There just aren’t that many good media executives out there, and he knows the business.”

‘Three-Ring Circus’

Shari Redstone may agree. She approached Dooley about taking over as CEO months ago, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified discussing private conversations.

She and Dooley maintained contact while the Redstones battled Dauman and George Abrams, another board member who was removed from the trust that will govern the family’s holdings in Viacom and CBS Corp. after Sumner Redstone’s death. Dauman and Abrams contested their ousters, claiming Redstone wasn’t of sound mind and was unduly influenced by his daughter.

“It’s good that the three-ring circus is ending,” said Sal Muoio, founder of S. Muoio & Co., an asset-management firm that owns 242,000 Viacom shares. Muoio called Dooley a “brilliant finance guy” with operational experience.

“He knows the assets well,” Muoio said. “He’s terrific. You may see things start to stir up under him.”

Close to Dauman

A member of Viacom’s board since 2006, the 59-year-old Dooley enjoys talking strategy in granular detail. He’s personable and thoughtful, according to people who’ve worked with him, a father of five boys who often asks colleagues about their kids. A fan of country music and the New York Mets, he has a loud laugh and loves to tell stories. He has an MBA from New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business.

For a QuickTake Q&A on Viacom, click here

“He’s got very good social skills, having navigated that company for decades,” Harrigan said. “He’s not an egomaniac, and I think that was the perception, rightly or wrongly, of Philippe.”

Dooley started at Viacom in 1980, seven years before Sumner Redstone won voting control of the company in a hostile takeover, beating out a bid from a group that included senior Viacom executives. Dooley, then the treasurer, was dispatched to greet the new owner on his first visit to the office. The two developed a tight working relationship, and after Redstone acquired Blockbuster in 1994 he sent Dooley to Texas to run the movie-rental chain.

But Dooley was very close to Dauman as well, which may make it difficult for Dooley to prove to some that his tenure would be markedly different from his predecessor’s. “He’s seen as someone who’s tied at the hip to Dauman,” said Eric Jackson, managing director at SpringOwl Asset Management.

Creative Funk

The two men left Viacom in 2000 -- the year the company merged with CBS Corp. -- to form DND Capital Partners, a private equity firm specializing in media and telecommunications. Dooley and Dauman returned to Viacom in 2006, the year after it and CBS split up to become separate entities again.

The prospect of reuniting the companies has been floated again and again by analysts, investors and former employees. Shari Redstone has said nothing publicly on the matter, and CBS CEO Leslie Moonves has kept a low-profile on the topic too.

Dooley will work closely with Shari Redstone on a strategy to turn Viacom around, according to people familiar with the matter. The company’s operating income plunged 29 percent in the most recent quarter, as its TV business continued to lose viewers and advertisers. The stock has dropped 46 percent in the past two years.

The Redstone family and the board want a CEO who can lift Viacom out of its creative funk. And Dooley has always been more comfortable with analysts than talent. “He’s not a creative type and has no connection to that world,” SpringOwl’s Jackson said. On the other hand, “he’s well liked by people on Wall Street. It’ll be interesting to see if Dooley stays.”

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