George Clooney Slams Daniel Loeb's Push for Sony Profits

Image: George Clooney Slams Daniel Loeb's Push for Sony Profits

Friday, 09 Aug 2013 06:31 AM

By Michael Mullins

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Hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb's push for Sony to increase profits in its enterainment unit is being criticized by actor George Clooney as failing to understand Hollywood or appreciate the creative pursuits of the film industry.

Loeb, founder and chief executive of the New York City-based hedge fund Third Point LLC which reportedly has more than $14 billion in assets, owns 7 percent of Sony stock through his fund, making the fund the largest Sony shareholder, according to Bloomberg News.

In May, the hedge fund manager, in a letter to Sony Chief Executive Officer Kazuo Hirai, proposed selling off part of Sony’s entertainment unit, up to as much as 20 percent, in an attempt to increase profits and boost the value of Sony’s entertainment unit, Bloomberg News reported.

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Clooney, who bases his Smokehouse Pictures banner at Sony – the film and television company he founded in 2006 with movie producer Grant Heslov – cautioned against Loeb’s influence at Sony.

In a recent interview with Deadline.com, the 52-year-old Academy Award winning actor criticized Loeb’s proposal, which could potentially impact the types of films Sony Pictures Entertainment would invest in down the line.

"I’ve been reading a lot about Daniel Loeb, a hedge fund guy who describes himself as an activist but who knows nothing about our business, and he is looking to take scalps at Sony because two movies in a row underperformed?" Clooney told Deadline.

The underperforming movies to which Clooney referred are "After Earth" and "White House Down."

Clooney listed several successful films Sony Pictures Entertainment produced in recent years, asking, "When does the clock stop and start for him at Sony? Why didn’t he include Skyfall, the 007 movie that grossed a billion dollars, or Zero Dark Thirty or Django Unchained? "

"You can’t cherry pick a small time period and point to two films that didn’t do great. It makes me crazy," Clooney added.

"Fortunately, this business is run by people who understand that the movie business ebbs and flows and the good news is they are ignoring his calls to spin off the entertainment assets. How any hedge fund guy can call for responsibility is beyond me, because if you look at those guys, there is no conscience at work," Clooney said. "It is a business that is only about creating wealth, where when they fail, they get bailed out and where nobody gets fired. A guy from a hedge fund entity is the single least qualified person to be making these kinds of judgments, and he is dangerous to our industry."

After listing recent films he made or starred in that might not have been made if the decision was left up to an outside entity only interested in the bottom line, Clooney told Deadline, "It’s crazy he has weight in this conversation at all."

"If guys like this are given any weight because they’ve bought stock and suddenly feel they can tell us how to do our business — one he knows nothing about — this does great damage then trickles down," Clooney said. "The board of directors starts saying, ‘Wait a minute. What guarantee do you have that this movie makes money?’ Well, there are no guarantees, but if you average out the films Will Smith and Channing Tatum have made, you will take that bet every time, even if sometimes it just doesn’t work out."

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"Hedge fund guys do not create jobs, and we do," Clooney continued. "On the movie we just made, we put 300 people to work every day. . . This is an industry that thrives; there are thousands of workers who make films. You want to see what happens if outside forces start to scare the industry and studios just make tent poles out of fear? You will see a lot of crap coming out. "

Whether Clooney’s objection to Loeb’s proposal had an impact is unclear. However, several days after the Deadline interview, Sony rejected the hedge fund manager’s proposal and on Tuesday announced that its board voted unanimously to keep 100 percent ownership of its film and music units, Bloomberg News reported.

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