Of all the indignities Conrad Black has had to endure, much of them admittedly at his own hands, none has been more symbolic than to go from being lauded as a British baron to being dismissed as a piece of “baggage” by the company he once headed.
In our view, it has always been something of a race to see what would happen first: Mr. Black moving into his prison lodgings or the Sun-Times Media Group, successor to Hollinger International and owner of the Chicago Sun-Times, throwing in the towel.
Tired of trying to hold on by its fingernails (having paid out more than $100 million in legal costs, much of it connected with the criminal defence of Conrad Black et al, has not helped), Sun-Times Media has decided to put all its assets on the block. It appears that changing the name from Hollinger International to Sun-Times Media did not have the hoped for result. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the overarching concern is a transaction that would free the company from the “baggage” of convicted former owner Conrad Black. The lord of luggage? Mr. Black once paraphrased Mme. Cornuel, who proclaimed “no man is ever a hero to his valet.” How much sharper the sting when he not only has to carry his own valise into prison, but has become it in the eyes of former employees.
We have expressed some doubt about the management abilities of Mr. Black’s successors at the Hollinger companies, whatever they might be called. They have made some colossally bad decisions, not the least of which was to be a bottomless ATM for Mr. Black and his cronies in dealing with their legal problems. The company itself also continues to face substantial litigation costs, as both a plaintiff and a defendant. No new owner will want to inherit that mess.
The board of Sun-Times Media has appointed Gordon Paris and Graham Savage, among other directors, to oversee the sale. We doubt that including members of the old guard, who have presided over Hollinger’s post-Black disintegration and are carrying more than a few suitcases themselves in the eyes of shareholders will help. But the move is about par for a company that has been very good at compensating its insiders while its investors have continued to see the value of their stock drift further downward toward oblivion. The stock, which in 2004 was trading around $20, currently trades at $1.47, well off its 52-week high of $6.94.