CBS ended its search for a new president today, two weeks after the abrupt firing of John D. Backe stunned the broadcasting industry.
Thomas H. Wyman, 50, vice chairman of the Pillsbury Co., will take over as CBS's president and chief executive officer on June 2, CBS chairman William S. Paley announced on behalf of the board of directors.
Wyman will earn about $800,000, roughly double what he was receiving at Pillsbury.
Paley, the 78-year-old founder of CBS, said Wyman " has my enthusiastic endorsement."
In a telephone interview, Wyman said he first met Paley last January. He evidently impressed Paley immediately because Paley asked him at that first meeting to consider joining the CBS board of directors.
Wyman said he declined because of other obligations, but the two men had an informal understanding that Wyman would rearrange his other directorships so he would be free to join the CBS board in about a year.
"After the events of May 8, our discussion escalated and took a dramatic right-angle turn," Wyman said. He was offered the CBS presidency last Thursday and accepted Tuesday, he said.
On May 8 Backe was fired after learning that Paley and some of the directors had been conducting an evaluation of his performance reflecting their doubts that he was the right man to run CBS when Paley eventually steps down.
Backe was the second heir apparent to Paley to be dismissed and his firing reawoke concern that although CBS is a $4 billion publicly held corporation it is being run at the whim of its aging chairman.
Paley has strongly denied that he acted alone and has stressed that, despite the apparent suddenness of Backe's departure -- in a year when the CBS network had recaptured the top rating spots and analysts were generally full of praise for the company's performance -- the reevaluation of Backe had been underway for months.
Wymas, who will be the fifth president of CBS in eight years, said he has no concern about his relationship with Paley. "I've spent quite a lot of time trying to understand (Backe's departure), and it was not an act of a capricious chairman. I really believe that," Wyman said.
"I'm not nervous about being treated unfairly. I'm nervous about doing the job well enough," Wyman said.
"I'm certainly not nervous about about whether Paley wants (me) to succeed. I'm confident he very badly wants this to succeed," Wyman said.
One of his worries, Wyman said, is that he comes to CBS with no experience in broadcasting.He raised his lack with CBS officials in discussing the job, but it was not taken as a serious problem, he said.
"This is as much a management problem as a technology problem," he said. "I don't have to invade those areas (technology and broadcast content). sI just have to make sure they're there," he added.
Wyman became vice chairman of Pillsbury in March 1979 after Pillsbury acquired the Green Giant Co. where Wyman had been chief executive officer.
He apparently prefers being number one -- even in a smaller pond -- because to take the top job at relatively small Green Giant he left the number two job at Polaroid.
At Pillsbury he had been regarded as the heir apparent to chairman William Spoor. However, Spoor is 57 and likely to remain active for years.
Wyman's reputation at Pillsbury was as a strong manager who deals well with people.
Paley said Wyman "has extensive experience both in the United States and internationally in marketing, financial, technological, policy-making and administrative posts. These are the talents CBS desires at the helm as the company faces the future determined to maintain our position of leadership and to continue our growth."
When asked what attracted him about heading CBS, Wayman said: "It's certainly large, but it's not so much the size as the variety of activities CBS has in changing areas."
Wyman made it clear he is interested in the new era of communications, based on emerging media technologies that open up new avenues for broadcasting. b
Wyman was graduated from Amherst and served in Korea as an officer with the Army Corps of Engineers from 1952 to 1955.
He than joined the Nestle Co. in New York as a salesman and rose until he was assistant to the president of the U.S. Nestle Co. From 1960 to 1965, he lived in Europe and became vice president of the Paris Nestle Co. before leaving to join Polaroid.
In 1974, Wyman was named by Time magazine as one of "200 rising world leaders."
He is a director of the Scott Paper Co., the Nortwestern Bank Corp., the Toro Co. and the National Exective Service Corps. Wyman is a trustee of Amherst and of the Minneapolis society of Fine Arts.
He is married and has four children.