For ABC Chairman Leonard H. Goldenson, who has presided over the annual meeting since he founded the company in 1953, today's final ABC stockholder gathering could have been bittersweet.
After all, when someone devotes a lifetime to building and nurturing a company that blossoms into a global communications giant, the financial rewards from selling do not always make up for the loss of control and prestige. But in an interview before the meeting, Goldenson, who is in his late 70s, showed no signs of remorse.
"I feel great today," he said. "I believe that selling ABC to Capital Cities is in the best interest of the company, the stockholders and the public."
It is widely believed that Goldenson, nearing retirement, selected Capital Cities as a merger partner not only because he was comfortable with turning over the ABC television network to Thomas S. Murphy, Capital Cities chairman, but also because he wanted to prevent ABC from becoming the target of a hostile takeover bid, either before or after his retirement.
Goldenson received a standing ovation at the meeting today after ABC President Frederick S. Pierce said:
"For ABC, the prospects of a combination with Capital Cities will be extremely exciting. . . . The promising future stands before us only because, for more than three decades, an extraordinary man stood behind us. He has been the visionary builder of this great company, its spirit and its guide.
Goldenson told ABC stockholders today that each share of ABC stock purchased for $14.88 a share when first issued in 1953 has increased in value to $589 a share, a cumulative return of just under 4,000 percent, exclusive of dividends. He also told them that a merger with Capital Cities would enable them "to realize the intrinsic worth of the assets which you own now."
Goldenson, who answered questions from stockholders for more than an hour, seemed to enjoy one final chance to entertain them. When asked by corporate gadfly Evelyn Y. Davis to explain why ABC and Capital Cities were holding simultaneous stockholder meetings, which prevented her from attending both gatherings, he answered, "When we have our next merger, we'll do it as you suggested." When Davis told him that she had read in the newspaper that ABC White House correspondent Sam Donaldson might leave the network to write a book, Goldenson said, "Sam is not writing a book. Don't believe everything you read in the papers. Only believe everything you see and hear on television."
Some of Goldenson's remarks were more philosophical.
"Return with me for a moment to a different time in the history of our company," he said. "When I first addressed an annual meeting of ABC shareholders in 1953, ABC had just completed its first merger. The company was a newly formed combination of radio, television and motion picture theater operations. We were determined to build a future as a great broadcasting company. Today, that early vision has been realized. . . .
"The communications landscape today is very different from the time when I united ABC with United Paramount Theatres. But our industry is still growing, and changing in exciting ways. I believe future challenges can be met most effectively as a result of the combination provided in this merger."