The ongoing battle for control of Sumner Redstone’s $40 billion multimedia empire, which includes Viacom and CBS, is shaping up into one of the best corporate boardroom dramas in recent memory.
One notable feature is that many of the parties from Redstone to Philippe Dauman, Viacom’s CEO who Redstone moved to oust from the board, are former corporate lawyers. To help acquaint you with a few of the major players in this unfolding saga, we’ve assembled a cast of notable characters and their legal background.
Bloomberg’s previous coverage here:
• How the Redstone Family Drama Could Leave Viacom Better Off (Explainer Video, July 19)
Sumner Redstone: Built a $40 billion media empire, that includes Viacom, which owns MTV and Nickelodeon and also Paramount Pictures and CBS Corp. In 1947, Redstone graduated Harvard Law School and started his career as an appellate lawyer in the tax division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
“When I got out of law school, I was offered jobs at several major Wall Street firms … I was not interested in either making a lot of money or limiting myself to academics,” Redstone wrote in his 2001 biography, A Passion to Win.
Instead, he travelled the country and argued 50 or 60 appellate cases at the DOJ, according to the biography.
The Boston University School of Law, where Redstone served on the faculty for three years in the early 1980s, wrote in a 2012 profile that after several years as a lawyer, “he joined the family business, a chain of drive in movie theaters,” which expanded into his media empire.
Philippe Dauman: Until very recently, Dauman, president and CEO of Viacom, was often characterized as Redstone’s heir-apparent.
Also a lawyer by training, Dauman graduated from Columbia Law School in 1978 and began his career as a corporate lawyer.
In 1986, “as a senior associate in the New York office of Shearman & Sterling, Dauman was pulled aside and told that a client — described only as ‘a theater operator from Boston’ — needed some help. That client was Sumner Redstone,” Columbia Law School magazine reported in a 2010 profile.
The rest is history: Dauman left his legal practice and joined Viacom, where in 2006, he took over as chief executive. In June, Redstone moved to ousted him from the Viacom board.
Shari Redstone: She is vice chair of the board of directors of Viacom and CBS.
The younger Redstone received her “JD and a Masters in Tax Law from Boston University. She practiced corporate law, estate planning and criminal law in the Boston area before joining National Amusement,” according to her CBS Corporation bio.
National Amusement is the elder Redtsone’s holding company, which controls an 80 percent stake in Viacom and a similar investment in CBS.
According to Bloomberg, she was once estranged from her father but has more recently become a fixture at her father’s estate.
George Abrams: Had been a Viacom director since 1986 until Redstone moved to oust him along with Dauman earlier this year.
Also a Harvard Law alum, he has been representing Redstone since the 1960s and was previously affiliated with Wilmer Hale.
According to a Harvard Law School magazine profile that appeared in 2000, “He was deeply involved in Redstone’s takeover of Viacom and subsequently in the Paramount takeover battle, among other massive transactions, and has been on Viacom’s ten-member board of directors since 1986.”
Fred Salerno: Not a lawyer, but elected lead independent director by Viacom’s board of directors in March and whom Redstone moved to oust along with Dauman and three others in June.
Salerno is the former vice chairman of Verizon and a plaintiff in Delaware.
UPDATED: The story has been clarified to reflect that the directors’ removal from the board is subject to challenge in court.