Tale as old as time
With the ongoing drama in banking sector, it felt like a good day to review a book that provides a peak behind the curtain of a large American media company.
Unscripted: The Epic Battle for a Media Empire and the Redstone Family Legacy by James B. Stewart and Rachel Abrams
I love a good tale of outrageous business behavior and there have been a plethora over the last few years. We’ve had the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes, Adam Newman, Trevor Milton, and Sam Bankman Fried just to name a few. But this enthralling book by New York Times journalists Stewart and Abrams has not one but two men of unbelievable power that have things come crashing down around them: Sumner Redstone, the founder of Viacom, and Les Moonves, the longtime head of CBS.
The book is cleverly divided into four “seasons”, the first two deal with the rise of Sumner Redstone and the empire he built with Viacom and CBS. The authors detail the sometimes strained relationship he has with his two children but also in his later years, the ongoing drama with the two women who move into his home and begin to isolate him from the rest of the world. Thanks to some excellent caregivers, Redstone’s daughter, Sheri, eventually manages to remove the women from her father’s lives, but not until they have taken a lot of money from him.
The third and fourth “seasons” pivot from the total focus on Redstone and instead look at what is happening at CBS as the #MeToo movement breaks in Hollywood. The investigations into sexual harassment and assults include Les Moonves, the power head of CBS, which is owned in large part by Redstone’s family. Whereas the first part of the book looks at Redstone’s personal life and how it impacted his company, the second part focuses a lot on the Boards of these two companies and the intra-Board flights. It is an incredibly detailed look at the workings of the Board of a major corporation. And also a great example of just awful corporate governance.
There are very few likable people in this book, most of them have become greedy for either power, money, or sex.. But Sheri Redstone manages to come through as a fairly decent human being . She makes some dubious decisions, but she at least seems to care that the Boards act in the best interest of the shareholders, which they rarely do. She might be the most naive person on a corporate board in the entire country, but at least she is trying to force some good governance.
I can’t wait for the Netflix docudrama on these events.