* Meyer among names being looked at in CEO search
* Meyer oversees auto relationships at Sirius XM
* CEO could come from media industry, subscriber-based
* Karmazin steps down in February
By Liana B. Baker
Dec 11 Jim Meyer, Sirius XM's president of
operations and sales, has emerged as a leading internal
contender to replace Mel Karmazin as chief executive of the
satellite radio broadcaster, according to sources with knowledge
of the situation.
Meyer, who arrived at Sirius XM the same year as Karmazin,
in 2004, oversees the company's auto industry relationships,
which account for the bulk of its revenue.
"At a company as complex as Sirius, with the satellites,
media and automotive parts, gluing it all together is Jim," said
a source who used to work at the company. "He is the No. 2 and
worked with him closely."
A committee led by Greg Maffei, CEO of Sirius XM's majority
shareholder, Liberty Media, is conducting a search to
find Karmazin's successor and is examining both external and
internal candidates. Maffei said on Liberty's Nov. 6 earnings
call that the CEO search could take up to six months.
Karmazin, who was hired as CEO of Sirius Satellite Radio in
2004 and orchestrated its merger with XM Satellite Radio in
2008, will step down from his role in February. His decision
dovetailed with Liberty's gaining a controlling interest in
Sirius XM through a gradual increase in its ownership stake over
the past year.
Meyer has a strong relationship with Eddy
Hartenstein--Sirius XM's non-executive chairman, who is on the
search committee with Maffei, along with board member James
Mooney. That may lead to Hartenstein's support, the former
company employee said. Meyer worked at Thomson Consumer
Electronics, which counted DirecTV as a client when Hartenstein
was the satellite TV company's president.
Sources said Meyer is just one of a number of candidates
Liberty is considering for the position, and that it is not
immediately clear who is the current favorite.
Sources said that Sirius XM's chief financial officer, David
Frear, could also be looked at for the top job. Frear has been
with the company since 2003 and currently reports directly to
But Liberty -- or more precisely its mercurial billionaire
founder, John Malone -- has a penchant for tapping big names
from outside of its house to run its companies. The firm, which
is known for engineering complicated transactions aimed at
avoiding taxes, historically has held stakes in companies rather
than operating them outright.
For instance, Malone named former NBC Universal executive
David Zaslav as CEO of Discovery Communications Inc,
and appointed Irving Azoff as chairman of Live Nation
Entertainment, two other companies in which Liberty owns
sizable stakes. Malone brought in Maffei as Liberty's CEO after
a career in Silicon Valley that included stints at Microsoft
Corp and Oracle Corp.
Sources said Liberty could go a similar route and name an
outsider to succeed Karmazin.
Macquarie Bank analyst Amy Yong said Liberty wants someone
with experience in a subscription-based business who understands
companies like Netflix and Hulu and can push Sirius XM
to launch more Internet-based initiatives.
One media executive said Liberty wants to land a "forward-
thinking radio or television executive" and pointed to the coup
scored by terrestrial radio broadcaster Clear Channel
Communications in landing former MTV and AOL executive Bob
Pittman as CEO as a hire Liberty might want to emulate.
One name that has been mentioned is Hugh Panero, the former
CEO of XM Radio who left after the merger with Sirius was
announced. Panero, who once worked for a pay TV network that was
partly controlled by Liberty Media in the 1990s, has been out of
the satellite business since leaving XM Radio. He is currently
the CEO of PopDust, a music content website.
Liberty did not return calls for comment. A representative
for Sirius XM declined to comment or make Meyer or Frear
available for an interview. Panero did not return a request for
Liberty acquired a roughly 40 percent stake in Sirius XM in
2009 as part of a deal in which it loaned the company $530
million to help it avoid bankruptcy. Liberty had to wait until
March 2012 before it could increase its stake, which it started
doing almost immediately once the lockup was lifted last spring,
by acquiring shares on the open market. It now controls nearly
50 percent of the company and is awaiting FCC approval to take
full control and replace the board.
Even without the FCC's approval, Liberty already appears to
be making the decisions at Sirius XM. For example, Liberty for
months talked openly about Sirius XM executing a large share
repurchase, which the company did last week, instituting a $2
billion share buyback program and a special dividend that
returns about $160 million to Liberty.
TECHNOLOGY VS PROGRAMMING EXPERTISE
Meyer -- as well as Frear -- not only lack the big name
recognition of some of the other potential CEOs in Liberty's
stable, but also strong programming chops. Meyer is described by
sources as a technology guy; Frear's focus is finance.
Sirius XM's programming is currently overseen by Scott
Greenstein, who serves as the company's president and chief
"When it comes to the programming side of the business, I
don't think Jim knows too much about that and, quite frankly,
he's not that interested," said a second former Sirius XM
employee who knows Meyer. "Greenstein is up on that stuff. Jim
is not that guy at all."
Lacking programming expertise may not matter. Sources said
Liberty is more interested in finding someone with good
relationships in the auto industry who can take Sirius XM to a
higher level digitally. Indeed, in July, Malone publicly
criticized Karmazin for lacking vision and has said that Sirius
XM could have done more with evolving technologies.
"It depends on how high profile Malone wants satellite to
be," said a third former Sirius XM employee. "I could see
rebranding, new forays but those things will take time. If
Malone feels like it's going to take a long time, then a
technology person could run and convert it. Jim's a technology