New York Magazine

LAST WOMAN STANDING

BELITTLED FOR DECADES BY EXECUTIVES AT VIACOM AND CBS, MOCKED BY JOURNALISTS AND INSULTED BY HER OWN FATHER, SHARI REDSTONE NOW SITS ATOP A $30 BILLION MEDIA EMPIRE

IN FEBRUARY 2017, Shari Redstone, the 62-year-old billionaire heiress and controlling shareholder of CBS and Viacom, with a honking Boston accent and a fondness for the bouffant blowout, was at the 50-yard line at Houston’s NRG Stadium to watch her beloved Patriots play in the Super Bowl. That was when CBS board member Charles Gifford, who towered over the five-foot-two Redstone, his own board’s vice-chair, grabbed her by the face to command her attention and said, “We need to talk, young lady.”

She froze. Her father, Sumner Redstone, had amassed an empire of media companies like CBS, which encompassed Showtime and Simon & Schuster, and Viacom, whose cable channels (MTV, Nickelodeon, VH1) and movie studio, Paramount, had seen better days, its stock price plummeting as mismanagement and cord-cutting ate into profits. For months, she had been arguing that combining the companies would keep them competitive; CBS board members, including Gifford and CEO Les Moonves, riding high on having the No. 1 broadcast network, had resisted.

Making a scene, Redstone worried, could jeopardize her already fragile relationship with CBS’s board, which was loyal to Moonves and had watched her replace Viacom’s chief executive and several board members. “There was a concern that no matter how gingerly she approached the issue, the CBS side would interpret it as part of a power play,” said someone who gave her advice about it at the time.

Over the years, as her father’s on-again, off-again heir apparent, Redstone had made not a few enemies in the family businesses. She had been described by journalists channeling anonymous executives as “pushy and overly keen for power,” someone who “rubs everyone the wrong way” and “developed something of a reputation for not mastering the details.” Her father went from anointing her his successor in 2002 to faxing a reporter to say she’d made no contribution. Finally, Sumner, 93, ailing, and absent from the public eye, was officially supporting her authority, but the road to reconciliation had been rocky. According to the journalist Keach Hagey, who wrote a biography of the family, Sumner used to call his daughter a “cunt” in front of company executives.

Redstone kept quiet on the 50-yard line, but in the months that followed, she took a series of steps to quietly push Gifford out. In the summer of 2017, she told Moonves, with whom she’d long been friends, that Gifford had made her uncomfortable, and when merger talks restarted, she believed Moonves would see to it that Gifford wouldn’t make it to the board of a combined company. According to Redstone, Gifford called her afterward and told her that was just how he talked to his daughters.

“I’m not your daughter,” she replied. “I’m the vice-chairman of the board you sit on.”

As merger talks continued in the spring of 2018, she asked Moonves for another assurance that Gifford wouldn’t last. Days later, Gifford, Moonves, and a handful of other board members—including Martha Minow, a former Harvard Law dean whom Redstone had recruited and whom she had recently asked to look into rumors about Moonves’s conduct with women—went to court in a daring bid to strip her of her control of the company, accusing her of “threaten[ing] to replace directors who do

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