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Company Town: Entertainment Upheaval : PROFILE : Bill Korn Made Group W Stronger and Better, but Now What? : Broadcasting: Westinghouse won't say what its management plans for CBS might be.

August 04, 1995|KAREN KAPLAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Bill Korn joined Westinghouse's Group W broadcasting group in 1990, the radio and TV stations operation was just another player in the broadcast world.

In the three years since Korn became its chairman and chief executive, he has turned Group W into the second-best-performing broadcast company in the country, with profit margins running at 45%.

Korn is credited with putting together the 1994 Westinghouse-CBS deal that expanded Group W's reach from five television stations to eight and created a production company to supply those stations with programs.

Analysts speculate that Korn is the man behind Westinghouse's proposed $5.4-billion CBS takeover, although Group W executives aren't saying where the idea came from.

Korn--a driven businessman who slashed station costs to boost profit--could be in line to head up broadcasting operations in the combined company, but so far Westinghouse Chairman Michael Jordan has made no announcements regarding CBS management.

"It makes one wonder if this is going to be the guy who will take control of those combined entities," said the chief executive of a competing broadcast group.

"He's in an ambiguous position right now," said Harold Vogel, a media analyst with Cowen & Co. in New York. "Westinghouse really needs to define the various management roles more quickly. It's almost unthinkable that this issue has not been resolved.

"It's not like they woke up on Monday and saw Disney merging with Capital Cities," Vogel added. "They've had these negotiations going on for weeks."

Korn joined Group W in 1990 as president of its television division. He had no experience in broadcasting, but under Korn the television group's profit margins rose from 38% in 1990 to more than 50%, analysts said.

Korn was promoted to chairman and chief executive of Group W in 1992, overseeing Westinghouse's radio stations, television production and distribution company and satellite communications business, in addition to the television stations.

Ann Schwetje, an analyst with Smith Barney in New York, said Korn deserves the credit for Group W's "dramatic improvement." Even before a renewal in advertising spending raised the fortunes of broadcasting companies in general, Korn's cost-cutting measures served to improve Group W's operating margin, she said.

"He's got the best focus of any business executive I've ever known," said a source close to Group W. "His mind is like a searchlight--it fastens on a pathway and explores it ferociously to its ultimate destination."

Unlike Westinghouse chief Jordan, who insists that co-workers call him Mike, Korn is described as more formal and very intense.

"He has a passionate desire to win and enjoy the fruits of victory," the source said. "Business is his first love. He loves his hobbies and he loves his family and he's a terrific manager of his people, but his main focus and passion is business."

That seems to explain why Korn is not well known even in broadcasting circles.

"This guy is one of the lowest-profile heads of a major broadcast group," the broadcast executive said.

Before joining Group W, Korn was a principal at Marketing Corp. of America, a consulting firm in Westport, Conn. He also held a variety of posts at PepsiCo Inc., including chief executive of Frito-Lay Inc. and vice president of marketing for Pepsi Cola Co. The Scranton, Pa., native is a devoted Dallas Cowboys fan. He has economics and marketing degrees from Stanford and Northwestern University, and he began his career as a marketing executive for Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati.

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