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DirecTV's new chief: A PepsiCo executive with marketing chops

Michael White will join the satellite firm as it seeks to expand here and in Latin America.

November 19, 2009|Ben Fritz

Signaling that marketing and international expansion will be critical to its future in an increasingly competitive landscape, DirecTV Group Inc. on Wednesday selected a top executive from PepsiCo with no experience in television to be its chief.

Michael White, chief executive of PepsiCo's international operations and vice chairman for the beverage giant, will become CEO of El Segundo-based DirecTV on Jan. 1. He replaces Chase Carey, who left in June to become president and chief operating officer of media conglomerate News Corp., which previously had a controlling stake in DirecTV.

Carey's departure was a surprise to many in the company and led to a five-month search for a replacement, during which former executive vice president of administration Larry Hunter served as interim chief executive. Hunter and several other DirecTV executives were rumored to be candidates for the job before White was selected.

DirecTV is facing increasing competition from telecommunications companies AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., which have gotten into the television services business recently, as well as from Dish Network Corp. and cable providers. Nonetheless, the company has continued to grow. DirecTV added 820,000 net subscribers in the first nine months of this year, 50% more than in the same period last year.

White has no experience in striking deals with networks or the technology behind satellite television, but DirecTV is probably counting on his marketing expertise to maintain and expand its customer appeal. As interactive services become more important, the satellite service may find itself increasingly vulnerable to cable and telecom providers because it doesn't have a two-way pipe into homes.

White's experience running Pepsi's overseas operations will also be useful as DirecTV tries to grow its business in Latin America, where it has 6.1 million subscribers. The company's U.S. subscribers number 18.4 million.

White was selected by a two-member search committee that consisted of DirecTV Chairman John Malone and board member Neil Austrian.

"After a very thorough search, we have found an exceptional leader with a sustained track record of success, profitably growing businesses and a reputation for making the impossible possible," said Malone, whose Liberty Media Corp. owns a controlling stake in DirecTV.

White is an 18-year veteran of PepsiCo, where he started as vice president of planning for its Frito-Lay North America subsidiary. Before that he worked at cosmetics company Avon Products Inc. and consulting firms Bain & Co. and Arthur Andersen & Co.

It's possible that White's tenure running an independent company will be short. There has been widespread speculation that DirecTV will be acquired by AT&T or Verizon, contributing to a 35% rise in its stock price so far this year.

The next big shift at the company, however, could follow a vote today during which shareholders are expected to approve Liberty's public spin-off of its stake.

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ben.fritz@latimes.com

Times staff writer Meg James contributed to this report.

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