Sam Zell resigns as Tribune CEO, remains chairman

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sam Zell is resigning as chief executive of Tribune Co TRBCQ.PK after two years at the helm of the bankrupt media company whose $8.2 billion buyout he engineered in 2007.

Zell will remain chairman of Tribune, the television broadcaster, Internet company and publisher of some of the largest U.S. daily newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, the company said on Wednesday.

Randy Michaels, Tribune’s chief operating officer since May 2008, will take over as CEO. Before becoming COO, he was executive vice president and CEO of Tribune’s interactive and broadcast divisions.

“This appointment reflects Randy’s increasing responsibilities,” Zell said in a statement. “At this point in Tribune’s evolution, no one is better suited to lead the company forward.”

Zell as chairman will provide “strategic oversight and vision to the company’s management team.”

The company declined to comment further on Zell’s and Michaels’ moves, and Michaels did not respond to an e-mailed request for an interview.

Michaels was an early lieutenant for Zell, the outspoken commercial real estate executive who took Tribune private in a deal that resulted in Tribune having about $13 billion of debt on its books.

That debt and a sharp decline in advertising revenue helped drive Tribune into bankruptcy.

Michaels will run Tribune at the same time that the company is fighting a plan by some of its lenders to get Tribune out of bankruptcy. Tribune wants a bankruptcy judge to approve its own plan once it files that plan with the court.

On Tuesday, the company got approval from a Delaware bankruptcy court to get more time to exclusively file its reorganization plan. That gives it 10 weeks to end a fight over the buyout that creditors blame for its bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy gives a company a limited time in which it has the exclusive right to propose a plan to reorganize its business and debts, although a court can approve an extension of that time.

But a group of hedge funds holding secured loan claims had argued that the judge should terminate Tribune’s exclusivity period and allow them to put forward their own plan.

Reporting by Robert MacMillan, editing by Gerald E. McCormick