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Ex-Studio Chief Joins Fight for Warner

January 31, 2006|Sallie Hofmeister | Times Staff Writer

Former Viacom Inc. and Universal Studios Chief Executive Frank Biondi is coming out of corporate retirement to take on a surprising role: helping lead the hostile fight for control of Time Warner Inc., the world's biggest media company.

In an interview Monday, Biondi confirmed that he was teaming up with billionaire investor Carl Icahn to try to unseat the board of Time Warner at the company's shareholder meeting in May.

If Icahn's group prevails, Biondi, who lives in Los Angeles and has been running an investment fund for the last several years, would replace Time Warner's chairman and chief executive, Richard Parsons.

"This is about a failed business plan; it isn't personal," said Biondi, 61, noting his frustration at Time Warner's stock performance as a 25-year holder of the shares. "There ought to be a way to unlock value."

In the early 1980s, Biondi served as chairman and chief executive of what is today a crown jewel of Time Warner: Home Box Office. Jeffrey Bewkes, Parsons' designated heir apparent, was a rising star at HBO under Biondi.

Signing up Biondi could give Icahn some momentum, analysts said. Icahn has had trouble recruiting a slate of directors, sources said, because Time Warner's largest investors are supportive of the company's current management and because Icahn lacks traction to win. His group controls only 3% of Time Warner's outstanding shares.

Time Warner shares are down 3.7% since Icahn's campaign became public in August.

Biondi said he was attracted to the fight in part by the opportunity to work for the first time with his brother, Michael Biondi, who is head of investment banking at Lazard Ltd., which represents Icahn. Biondi said he also was impressed by an exhaustive analysis of Time Warner by Lazard that would be made public Feb. 7.

Time Warner will study the Lazard report when it is published, spokeswoman Susan Duffy said. She declined to comment on Biondi.

Biondi was ousted from his last two major entertainment posts, at Universal and Viacom.

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Bloomberg News was used in compiling this report.

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