Ask Tom Freston: It Pays to Stay on Sumner's Good Side

What Everyone Is Talking About

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- It's nice to join the executive suite at Viacom, but it's even nicer to leave it. If any of those MTV colleagues shed a tear for topper Tom Freston as they watched his final walk down the corridor, they should be over it. Our insiders tell us Tom is planning a well-deserved jaunt around Asia now that he's left those corporate headaches behind.
Tom Freston
Tom Freston Credit: AP

And he can afford to travel all he wants, too. The former CEO was pushed out with wide-canopied golden parachute. How wide? He walks away with an amount, revealed in filings yesterday, worth a cool $84.8 million. That should be enough to keep wife Kathy Freston, author of relationship book "The One," happy. The well-loved Mr. Freston deserves every penny, said one former insider today. "He built the place."

So how does that compare with other Viacom lieutenants? Just two short years ago, Sumner Redstone's No. 2, Mel Karmazin, also walked the Viacom plank. How much did he get? A meager $31 million. (See, Mel, you probably should have spent more time with Sumner.)

But to really understand who Sumner's friends are, you have to go back to the Viacom/CBS acquisition in 1999, when Tom Dooley and Philippe Dauman exited the company for the first time. They each received exit packages ($33 million) and stock options worth up to as much as $150 million. Now both men are in charge again at Viacom, with Mr. Dauman as the new president-CEO and Mr. Dooley senior exec VP-chief administrative officer. Which begs the question, Do they have to give it back?

Watercooler is cheered, however, that someone is being fiscally responsible. Yes, Sumner is taking a paycut. Mr. Redstone's salary will be reduced to $1 million for 2007, down from $1.75 million this year, and his bonus will be halved to $3.5 million. Well, let's hope that improves the stock price.
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