When a $65 million company switches CEOs, the news is generally announced with a press conference, major news stories, or at the very least a media release. Not at the strictly secured Dickerson Road offices of Speer Communications, where the pipeline of information is more like a drinking straw. Out is founding CEO Richard Speer, son of Speer Communications chairman and former Home Shopping Network honcho Roy Speer. In is Steve Tello, president of Speer Communications, who will retain that title in addition to the one formerly held by Speer.
Current and former staffers have complained for months about the secrecy and Goldfinger-like security at the Dickerson Road facility. This latest development probably won’t help. Although Tello’s office confirmed the change, word apparently hasn’t reached much of the corporation’s staffincluding the telephone operator, who identified Speer Communications’ CEO as Richard Speer on Tuesday.
When did the switch come about? About two weeks ago, according to Lisa Westerfield, director of corporate communications for Speer Communications. Tello now oversees all operations at Speer Communications, according to Westerfield. She states that Richard Speer has been “promoted” to the position of vice chairman, an office that, she says, will “have more responsibilities,” including the founding of new Speer Communications businesses.
Former Speer employees, however, had predicted for several weeks that the younger Speer would be replaced as CEO. A former Speer business associate called Richard Speer’s new position “a total demotion.”
“It’s a constant struggle between father and son,” a Speer insider said last December. “It’s Richard’s company, but Roy runs the show.” If Richard could leave his post as CEO without attracting outside notice for two weeks, that hardly counteracts the impression.
During Richard Speer’s tenure as CEO, the first-year performance of Speer Communications and its many holdingswhich include Warner Bros. affiliate WNAB-Channel 58, music-retail network MOR Music, and Speer Productionswas a disappointment. Since its much-ballyhooed opening in November of 1995, Speer Communications has seen the cancellation of almost all WNAB’s local programming; massive cutbacks at MOR Music, including the firing of its on-air talent; and the indefinite postponement of a planned 24-hour news channel, Tennessee Now. Former staffers say the channel was announced prematurely to steal the thunder from WTVF’s WTVF-Plus news channel.
Most embarrassing was a widely publicized series of firings last September that ousted WNAB’s top executives, along with as many as 100 Speer Communications employees. Many claim they were dismissed without notice; some say they didn’t receive severance packages. Others refuse to talk, citing concern for their jobs or their safety.
Nevertheless, the Speer facility continues to shelter a sprawling assortment of businesses at its Dickerson Road complex. One business in development is Speer Virtual Media, a vaguely defined company with concerns ranging from prepaid calling cards to “virtual office setups” for people working at home. According to Westerfield, the company will be run by Richard Speer and John Thomas, a longtime Speer associate and confidant. Calls to Speer’s office about the company were directed to Westerfield.
Perhaps even more obscure is Life Science Technologies, a Speer-related multilevel-marketing company designed to sell cosmetics and health supplies. Its headquarters reportedly reside in a restricted area of executive offices nicknamed “Mahogany Row.” Not even some current Speer employees know that Life Science exists in the same building where they work. Then again, they didn’t know they had a new CEO either.
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