Original Article By Anthony D’Alessandro And Dominic Patten At Deadline.com
April 6, 2022-
Less than 24 hours after CEO Jason Kilar, HBO Max boss Andy Forssell and Studio chief Ann Sarnoff were pink-slipped from the soon-to-disappear WarnerMedia, more executives were shown the door Wednesday.
The group includes CFO Jennifer Biry; Jason Kilar’s right-hand corporate communications person Christy Haubegger, who is also the Chief Inclusion Officer; EVP Chief Human Resources Officer Jim Cummings; EVP Chief Revenue Officer Tony Goncalves; EVP General Counsel Jim Meza; and Chief Technology Officer Richard Tom.
The latest series of exits comes about 48 hours before the newly minted Discovery-WarnerMedia merger will be final, with Discovery boss David Zaslav as CEO. Zaslav is a guy who doesn’t like a lot of fat in his corporate structure, and this morning’s massive firing underscores that. The newly merged company looks to debut Monday on Wall Street, sources tell us.
Staying on for the short-term to help with the “transition,” communications boss Haubegger just sent out a memo to staff. “On a personal level, this journey has been the peak of my career,” she wrote Wednesday. “Your talents have made it an honor and your friendship has made it a joy,” the well respected exec added. (See her full memo below.)
More high-level departures are expected, though we hear that they might come in the next few weeks as opposed to the next few hours or days. We do know that David Haddad, President Warner Bros. Games, and Gerhard Zeiler, President, WarnerMedia International, are both sticking around despite no longer having Kilar to report to directly anymore.
HBO and HBO Max Chief Content Officer Casey Bloys is also expected to be asked to stay on. Also among those who look likely to stay at the new Warner Bros Discovery are Warner Bros Motion Picture Group Studio chairman Toby Emmerich and Channing Dungey, chairman of Warner Bros Television. Warner Bros COO Carolyn Blackwood is also safe for the time being, we hear.
As of right now in this fluid situation, all of the exiting execs are still showing up on the WarnerMedia website in their now former positions.
Having said that, it’s been heavily buzzed that Zaslav, a hands-on executive, is bound to appoint an overall studio czar. Names such as Netflix film boss Scott Stuber, Disney General Entertainment Chairman Peter Rice, and former Paramount Motion Pictures President Emma Watts have been buzzed around town for the job. However, there’s a group of sources who say that an appointment isn’t imminent.
We hear that Zaslav is all about the motion picture studio, and thinks it needs to be fixed. Warner Bros’ return to a theatrical window this year with The Batman after an HBO Max day-and-date strategy last year has been successful, that Matt Reeves directed pic grossing over $700 million. At the same time, it was announced Tuesday with Sarnoff’s exit that her role won’t be duplicated in the new organizational structure of the combined company.
With all the movement out of the company this week, longtime Zaslav aide Adria Alpert Romm looks to be a pivotal player going forward. The Discovery Communications SEVP Human Relations and Global Diversity is right now set to retire at the end of the year. However, with events moving so quickly and red wedding-like staffing changes occurring, we hear that Romm could delay her retirement for a second time to help Zaslav run the huge newly merged company.
Certainly, the jump from the relatively small ship of Discovery to the aircraft carrier that is WarnerMedia will require a steep and fast learning curve on the part of Zaslav, Romm and other members of the Discovery inner circle.
An uptick as quick as WarnerMedia execs walking the plank, one could say — at least for now.
Here is Haubegger’s departing memo:
Some days are bigger than others. This is one of those days.
I am writing to let you know that I am going to be leaving the company after the merger closes. I will be here in the near term to assist with the transition and to continue to do the best part of my job, which is to advocate for you, making sure that the incoming leadership knows how truly extraordinary this team is.
When I joined WarnerMedia three years ago, I was hired to be the company’s first Chief Inclusion Officer. At that time, there was no Equity + Inclusion role, no team, and no structure in place. Moreover, it was an organization in transition, but moments of transition often present the greatest opportunities. At every inflection point, you get a chance to hit the reset button and reinvent who you are going to be. I believed that we had a chance to redefine WarnerMedia as the leader in Equity and Inclusion. I was fortunate to have two CEOs in John Stankey and Jason Kilar and a partner in HR leader Jim Cummings who believed that a focus on E+I was not just the right thing to do, but in fact a strategy that would enable us to win in the marketplace. The investment we made in building the strongest Equity + Inclusion team in the business and shifting our collective focus, has led to the most diverse and inclusive workforce, content and storytellers this company has had in nearly a century of existence.
Jason Kilar trusted me with the leadership of the Communications organization in 2020 and I can now confirm what many suspected: this is the most outstanding Comms team in the business. Among other achievements, you came together from our legacy businesses to form a cohesive team, generated incredible press coverage for the global launch(es) of HBO Max, launched countless series, movies, documentaries and specials to wide critical acclaim, record ratings and box office success, drove a record number of nominations and awards, opened theatrical releases around the world, publicized major sporting events, released games, amplified our Equity + Inclusion efforts, secured our ranking as one of Fast Company’s 2022 World’s Most Innovative Companies list (#1 in Film and TV category), and helped maintain CNN as the global leader in news and the recent launch of CNN+. During an unprecedented time, we found a way to take care of each other while also supporting the efforts of our non-profit partners who provided support for communities around the world. To have achieved all of this under any circumstances would have been a feat. To do so under unbelievably stressful conditions, a pandemic and constant change is nothing short of remarkable.
I understand that today’s news may be worrying at this time of uncertainty. But I want to remind you of the key thing we’ve learned over the past few years: that this organization is, in fact, unstoppable and the momentum you have created cannot be reversed. I am so deeply proud of you and immensely grateful to you and all you have accomplished. More importantly, I am counting on you to carry it all forward.
On a personal level, this journey has been the peak of my career. Your talents have made it an honor and your friendship has made it a joy.