FitzSimons, Dennis J. 1950–
Dennis J. FitzSimons
President and chief executive officer, Tribune Company
Education: Fordham University, BA, 1972.
Family: Married Ann Christie (1980); children: two.
Career: Stock-transfer company, 1972, account officer; Grey Advertising, 1972–1973, assistant buyer; Peters, Griffin, Woodward, 1973–1975, marketing representative; Blair Television, 1975–1977, marketing representative; TeleRep, 1977–1981, account executive, then program salesman; Viacom, 1981, director of sales and marketing; 1982, director of sales and marketing for WVIT-TV; Tribune Company, 1982–1984, director of sales; 1984–1985, station general manager of WGNO-TV; 1985–1987, vice president of operations for Tribune Broadcasting; 1987–1991, vice president and general manager of WGN-TV; 1992–1994, president of Tribune Broadcasting's Tribune Television Division; 1994–2003, executive vice president of Tribune Broadcasting; 2000, executive vice president; 2001–2003, president and COO; 2003–2004, CEO and president; 2004–, chairman, CEO, and president.
Awards: Broadcaster of the Year, Broadcasting & Cable, 2003.
■ Dennis J. FitzSimons spent two decades rising through the ranks at the media giant Tribune Company before being appointed CEO in 2003. Prior to his appointment FitzSimons spent most of his time at Tribune overseeing the company's many television stations, where he aggressively fostered and maintained Tribune's status as a broadcasting powerhouse. Despite his previous success FitzSimons's appointment as CEO represented a departure from tradition for Tribune, the nation's second-largest newspaper company and fifth-largest
broadcast television group: he was the first CEO not to have served as a publisher of the flagship newspaper, the Chicago Tribune. Known by industry analysts and colleagues as an accomplished manager, FitzSimons was renowned for handling a large amount of work and pressure in an understated and calm style.
FORGOES PLANS FOR LAW CAREER
FitzSimons graduated from Fordham University with a degree in political science and was thinking about going to law school when he took an intermediary job as an account officer at a stock-transfer company. Shortly afterwards, however, he was laid off, as the economy went into recession. He then obtained a position at Grey Advertising as an assistant buyer and, as he told Karissa S. Wang of Electronic Media, found that he loved the work. He noted, "I realized that the guys who were selling time were making more than the people who were buying time. So I decided to check out that side of the business" (April 23, 2001).
FitzSimons became a marketing representative for several companies, including TeleRep in 1977, for which he worked in both Chicago and New York. His first position at TeleRep was as an account executive selling national advertising spots for television stations. He then became a program salesman, hawking the company's package of original television movies, an innovative effort that gave independent television stations and some affiliates fresh prime-time programming. The job demanded a hectic pace, and FitzSimons found himself traveling to up to five different cities each week.
In 1981 FitzSimons became a director of sales and marketing for Viacom, conceiving the idea of producing a commercial television version of a PBS program on Wall Street hosted by Louis Rukeyeser. FitzSimons then became director of sales and marketing at Viacom's WVIT-TV in Hartford, Connecticut. Within a year he was recruited for the top sales post at WGN-TV in Chicago; Tribune executives had believed that station advertising time was being undersold. In an interview with Steve McClellan for Broadcasting & Cable News, FitzSimons explained that his "job was to get the sales research right and then price it right" (April 14, 2003).
FitzSimons successfully accomplished his goal by reorganizing the sales department at WGN and consequently boosting the station's market share of advertising revenue by nearly five percentage points in a single year. As a result he was promoted to general manager of WGNO-TV in New Orleans, which the Tribune had recently purchased. After a brief but successful stint there, FitzSimons found himself back in Chicago serving as vice president of operations; he was essentially the numbertwo man of the Tribune's television division. In this position he coordinated most of the television group's activities and helped integrate the Tribune's recently purchased KTLA-TV of Los Angeles. In 1987 FitzSimons was promoted to vice president and general manager of WGN, the Tribune's flagship station.
FACES NEW CHALLENGES
In his new position at WGN FitzSimons faced novel challenges, as the nature of the television business began to change. Cable access broadened and a proliferation of specialized stations went on the air; a programming bidding war broke out. The cost of programming shot up, and FitzSimons had to increase the efficiency of station operations so that new programs could be afforded.
One of FitzSimons's major accomplishments at WGN, where he became president in 1992, was the agreement he finally reached with the National Basketball Association commissioner David Stern. The NBA and WGN engaged in several court battles over who would control the station's nationally televised Chicago Bulls schedule. The eventual accord was important because televising the Bulls games, which were becoming popular thanks to the team's improvement and the appeal of its superstar Michael Jordan, helped WGN dominate the Chicago sports market and attract additional advertising.
In 1994 FitzSimons was appointed executive vice president of Tribune Broadcasting. At the time the Tribune had six stations; FitzSimons would go on to guide the Tribune through numerous acquisitions, such as those of WPHL-TV in Philadelphia and WLVI-TV in Boston. FitzSimons went on to serve as president of Tribune Television from 1992 to 1994 and was appointed executive vice president of Tribune Broadcasting Company in 1994. By 1996 Tribune stations occupied some 22 percent of the U.S. television market, and FitzSimons stated that he believed the company's stations had the potential to occupy up to 35 percent of the market.
In 1997 FitzSimons was appointed president of Tribune Broadcasting Company. Two years later he played an instrumental role in the acquisition of the Times-Mirror company, which boasted such publications as the Los Angeles Times, the Hartford Courant, and Newsday. FitzSimons was named executive vice president of the Tribune Company in January 2000 and assumed overall responsibility for the Tribune's efforts in broadcasting, publishing, interactive media, and the operations of Major League Baseball's Chicago Cubs, which Tribune owned. By 2001 the company had a roster of 22 stations, due largely to FitzSimons's efforts over the years.
In 2003 FitzSimons was appointed president and CEO of the Tribune Company. Although he was known primarily as the company's veteran "television guy," the appointment, said Diane Mermigas in Electronic Media, recognized that FitzSimons had "demonstrated a keen appreciation for both the distribution and content sides of the ledger" (January 27, 2003).
By the time he took over the reins, FitzSimons had a healthy appetite for acquisitions. He had been involved in plans to attempt to own both a daily newspaper and a broadcast station in the same market, a circumstance that was disallowed by a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling that generally barred such monopolistic media ownerships. The Tribune had already been granted a waiver to own both the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and WBZL-TV in Miami, but joint operation of the two had been barred; FitzSimons became frustrated as he waited for the FCC to rule on the matter. In an interview with Doug Halonen of Electronic Media, FitzSimons stated, "If we're going to be able to compete effectively, we need to be able to consolidate" (May 27, 2002).
As the CEO FitzSimons turned his sights on making the Tribune a leading media player by making bold program moves for the Tribune stations and acquiring more big-market TV stations. One of his goals was to extend the distribution of the superstation WGN, increasing coverage from 57 million to 70 million homes. He kept his eye on the possibility of newspaper-television cross-ownership, emphasizing the purchase of additional newspapers. Shortly after becoming CEO, he told Mermigas of Electronic Media, "Tribune will be bigger and in the top tier of its core broadcasting and newspaper businesses 24 months from now, as scale will be increasingly important in a fragmented marketplace" (January 27, 2003).
MANAGEMENT STYLE: A TRUE GENTLEMAN
Many industry analysts expressed strong reservations over the manner in which a television executive would get along with print-media veterans who tended to look down on the broadcast end of the business. Yet company insiders noted that a review of FitzSimons's performance over the years quickly allayed those fears. Robert E. Le Blanc, a media technology consultant, told Brian McCormick of Crain's Chicago Business, "Dennis spent his life in the TV business. But when the time came to represent other constituencies, he quickly went from being a TV guy to being a Tribune guy" (May 6, 2002).
FitzSimons's transition from a strict focus on television to widened efforts in print and other media in the late 1990s showed that he was a quick study who could apply his broadcasting expertise to the issues facing the company's print publications. FitzSimons was known for being able to handle a tremendous workload under pressure while maintaining a calm and in-control demeanor. In Broadcasting & Cable, McClellan quoted Ward Quall, the one-time WGN general manager, as noting that FitzSimons was "unflappable" and "a gentleman's gentleman" (April 14, 2003).
Company insiders noted that FitzSimons was less buttoned-down than his predecessor and more outgoing. He was respected not only throughout the industry but also within the company's executive hierarchy. He was known for having a balanced approach in that he was aggressive but not overly so and tenacious while maintaining his personal appeal with both clients and colleagues. FitzSimons was also able to combine his business acumen with a commitment to community service. While working at WGN he founded the annual Bozo Ball, a black-tie event that raised nearly $4 million for a youth center in one of Chicago's tougher neighborhoods. "In a sea of basic-cable networks," FitzSimons told McClellan, "broadcasters have an edge by serving communities well" (April 14, 2003).
EMPHASIS ON BIGGER … MAYBE
Although the Tribune owned 11 larger newspapers, 26 broadcast-television stations, one national cable station, a stake in a television syndication studio, a Major League Baseball team, 50 Internet sites, and one radio station when FitzSimons took over, he maintained that the company needed to continue to get bigger and better. He pursued cross-media ownership with zeal, believing that it offered advertisers options to reach every possible demographic in a single market. Nevertheless, if FCC regulations remained unchanged, FitzSimons and the Tribune would be forced to sell some of either its television stations or newspapers when broadcast licenses expired. Nevertheless, FitzSimons remained true to his philosophy of growth. He told Jeremy Mullman in Crain's Chicago Business, "The nature of the media business over the past 25 years is that you're either growing or you're out" (June 2, 2003). In addition to his duties at Tribune, FitzSimons sat on the boards of several organizations, including the Advertising Council, the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation, the Television Operators Caucus, and the Big Shoulders Fund.
See also entry on Tribune Company in International Directory of Company Histories.
sources for further information
Halonen, Doug, "Tribune Won't Wait for FCC," Electronic Media, May 27, 2002, p. 1.
McClellan, Steve, "Tribune's Chief Is Second to None," Broadcasting & Cable, April 14, 2003, p. 15.
McCormick, Brian, "Meet Trib's Next CEO," Crain's Chicago Business, May 6, 2002, p. 4.
Mermigas, Diane, "May Buy WB, Start Chicago Sport Channel," Electronic Media, January 27, 2004, p. 4.
Mullman, Jeremy, "Media Muscle," Crain's Chicago Business, June 2, 2003, p. A75.
Wang, Karissa S., "The Evangelists: Dennis FitzSimons," Electronic Media, p. 19.