Getting a chance to lead one of the four major broadcast networks — NBC, CBS, ABC or Fox — is rare. A woman has never had the CEO spot at any of them.
That should change, and CBS Corp. should be the company that changes it.
Joe Ianniello, Moonves' chief operating officer, is acting as the company's interim CEO and Dick Parsons, the company's interim chairman, had been leading the effort to decide on a full-time replacement until his sudden departure was announced Sunday night, citing health concerns.
CBS has spoken with executive search firms including Heidrick & Struggles, Korn Ferry and Spencer Stuart to help with the search, which will kick off in earnest in the next few weeks, according to people familiar with the matter who declined to identify themselves because the process is private. They spoke before the Parsons' resignation was announced. A CBS spokesman declined to give a timeline on the search process, though people familiar with the matter expect a decision by early 2019.
The search will be methodical, as many of CBS' directors are new and have to figure out what the company should do next. Controlling shareholder Shari Redstone named six new independent directors in September after the Moonves scandal. These board members need to familiarize themselves with the company and determine a strategic direction: Should CBS stay as a stand-alone company or buyer of smaller media companies, or should it look to sell? The answer will inform the CEO search.
Whichever way they go, selecting a female executive for the job would have obvious and immediate positive effects on a company culture that has been mired in sexual misconduct scandals.
In addition to Moonves, "CBS This Morning" co-host Charlie Rose lost his job after The Washington Post reported eight women said he sexually harassed them. Three women have subsequently sued him and CBS News, which they claim knew about Rose's behavior for decades. Jeff Fager, the former chairman of CBS News and former executive producer of "60 Minutes," also lost his job after threatening a reporter for looking into allegations of sexual harassment against him.
Hiring a woman would also break a particularly resistant glass ceiling. Very few media companies are run by women.
There are a number of viable candidates — too many to list here. But CNBC spoke with some current media executives about whom they'd recommend for the job:
- Anne Sweeney. Sweeney was the former co-chair of Disney Media. Prior to that, she was president of the ABC Television Group and president of the Disney Channel. She's also been CEO and chairman of FX Networks from 1993 to 1996 and had a variety of roles at Nickelodeon. She has experience helping to lead a broadcast network (ABC) and cable channels, giving her an experience overlap with CBS Corp., which owns the network, Showtime, half of the CW and other smaller cable networks, among other assets. She's also on the board of Netflix, giving her a window into the company that's most responsible for the enormous transition happening in traditional media.
- Nancy Dubuc. Dubuc became Vice Media's CEO earlier this year after leaving her post as A+E Networks president and CEO. Vice may have made a similar cultural decision to select a woman as CEO after accusations of sexual harassment were revealed by The New York Times. Contractual issues with Dubuc's recent hiring may make poaching her difficult for CBS. But Dubuc's leadership in the top position puts her on a short list of qualified candidates.
- Susan Wojcicki. The CEO of Google's YouTube since 2014 is already one of the most powerful people in media, and may see the top spot at CBS as a demotion, given that YouTube's theoretical standalone valuation — $160 billion, according to a JPMorgan estimate — dwarfs CBS'. But the allure of running all aspects of a company could be tempting.
- Indra Nooyi. The former PepsiCo CEO (and still chairman) doesn't have any media experience but knows how to run a large company under the public eye. While Nooyi may not be interested in the job, leaving Pepsi to run a big media company isn't without precedent. Mike White, who was vice chairman and PepsiCo International CEO as part of his nearly two decades at the company, left the job in 2009 to take over as DirecTV's CEO.