Sirius CEO wants defined role if Liberty takes over

NEW YORK Tue Nov 29, 2011 3:45pm EST

Mel Karmazin, Chief Executive Officer of Sirius XM Radio speaks at the Reuters Global Media Summit in New York, November 29, 2011.  REUTERS/Mike Segar

Mel Karmazin, Chief Executive Officer of Sirius XM Radio speaks at the Reuters Global Media Summit in New York, November 29, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sirius XM Radio Inc (SIRI.O) CEO Mel Karmazin admits that he doesn't like playing second fiddle, which could pose a problem in 2012 if Liberty Media Corp (LMCA.O) increases its stake in the satellite radio operator.

John Malone's Liberty took a 40 percent stake in Sirius two years ago as part of deal to lend it $530 million so Sirius could stave off bankruptcy. Liberty has the option to increase its holding above 49.9 percent after March 2012.

Most analysts believe that when the time comes that is exactly what Liberty will do.

Karmazin, who spoke in New York at the Reuters Global Media Summit on Tuesday, said that Liberty Chairman Malone and CEO Greg Maffei should be very happy with the deal.

"They could call me and say 'Mel, I love the company so much, I want to buy the whole company,'" he said. "They haven't called and I don't suspect they will."

Indeed, Karmazin says that while many suitors would like to take over Sirius, he does not know who would pay a high enough multiple to do so. The Manhattan native -- Karmazin said there is no place else he would rather work than in New York -- has a long history of both leading and selling media companies.

The last time Karmazin worked for a controlling shareholder it didn't go so well. As the president and chief operating officer of a then-combined Viacom VIAb.N and CBS Corp (CBS.N), Karmazin repeatedly clashed with Chairman and CEO Sumner Redstone and eventually left after just three years.

"I'm not really good at working for somebody, I just could not be a No. 2," Karmazin conceded. "I don't blame Sumner at all. I'm just not good at that."

While Karmazin said he currently has a great relationship with Malone and Maffei, he bluntly noted that if Liberty was to take a controlling stake his role would have to be clearly delineated.

Karmazin, who took over the helm of Sirius in 2004, said his contract ends at the end of 2012. Whether or not he plans to sign a new deal is still undecided: "It depends on whether this company needs me as much or if I could make as much of a contribution someplace else or here," he said.

"I'm going to work every day," he said. "The only time I would stop is if I felt like I couldn't do it as well as somebody else."

(Reporting by Peter Lauria and Jennifer Saba; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)