CBS News hires firm of network co-chief’s brother to advise on layoffs

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CBS News has hired a consulting firm to draw up plans for a corporate slimdown where an executive is the brother of the network’s cost-slashing co-president, The Post has learned.

As previously reported by The Post, Neeraj Khemlani joined CBS as co-president in May and quickly signaled he planned to cut expenses across the third-place news network, which is owned by media giant ViacomCBS. Almost immediately after Khemlani took the reins, executives from the firm FTI Consulting were brought in, employees told The Post.

FTI doesn’t appear to have significant experience in media and broadcast consulting, but it got the plum job.

“A month or two after Neeraj started, we got emails,” a CBS employee said. The source added that upward of 100 consultants were soon organizing Zoom meetings across CBS’s broadcast, digital and local news divisions and asking for presentations on their departments.

CBS News co-president Neeraj Khemlani
CBS News co-president Neeraj Khemlani came aboard CBS with a plan to cut costs. The news division hired his brother’s consulting firm, FTI, raising eyebrows at the network.

“They were looking for ways to create efficiencies in the news organization,” the source said, adding that it ultimately translated to layoffs and consolidation for many.

“Everyone knows Neeraj is an accountant masquerading as a journalist,” another insider told The Post. “It’s no surprise his brother is a consultant he hired to cut costs — his sole job is to slim everything down for sale.”

Sources inside CBS told The Post they were questioning the hire of FTI because it is not known for media consulting like rivals McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group. According to its website, FTI hasn’t had any major TV clients recently outside of CBS.

Sanjeev Khemlani
FTI senior managing director Sanjeev Khemlani is the brother of CBS News co-president Neeraj Khemlani
Courtesy of LinkedIn

FTI’s top media consultant Luke Schaeffer, who has worked on the CBS account, boasts of non-TV clients like the digital publication Refinery29 when it merged with Vice Media, or radio giant Entercom when it merged with CBS Radio.

A source close to CBS said that Khemlani’s brother, Sanjeev, senior managing director at FTI who specializes in restructuring, did not work on the CBS account.

FTI declined to comment specifically on CBS or any other clients, adding: “As a matter of policy, we do not comment on, confirm or deny client engagements or reports of client engagements.”

Large companies like CBS typically have an approval process for outside contractors that includes conflict disclosures, as well as an internal department that runs a bidding process for the best pitch, said Douglas Chia, president of Soundboard Governance.

It could be that FTI gave a “compelling business pitch like cost,” Chia said. “People are worried about giving a sweetheart contract to somebody’s brother’s firm without an open bidding process, however.”

CBS News signage on the ViacomCBS headquarters
CBS News has been in the process of restructuring under co-presidents Neeraj Khemlani and Wendy McMahon.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

CBS did not comment on whether Khemlani disclosed to CBS that the Washington, DC-based FTI employed his brother, or if there was a formal bidding process.

A CBS rep did say that “CBS’s relationship with FTI predates current leadership.”

Sources previously told The Post that Khemlani, a former Hearst exec and “60 Minutes” producer, has been “cutting CBS to the bone,” slimming down the company’s digital newsroom and opting to use some local news reporting in broadcast news reports.

Khemlani and his co-president Wendy McMahon replaced legendary newshound Susan Zirinsky, who had succeeded David Rhodes as CBS News president following a turbulent period marred by sexual misconduct allegations that ousted CBS CEO Les Moonves, “60 Minutes” boss Jeff Fager and others.

Now, sources told The Post that Khemlani is looking to cut the salary of “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell, who currently makes in the ballpark of $8 million.

Norah O'Donnell
Khemlani is looking to slash costs, and as part of that mission, he is looking at Norah O’Donnell’s salary, sources said.
CBS via Getty Images

Under his tenure, CBS has let go of a slew of senior execs, including senior vice president of human resources Jose Andino; executive vice president and general manager of CBS News Digital Christy Tanner; CBS News creative director Renee Cullen; and senior vice president of CBS News Digital Susanne Mei.

Other recent casualties include investigative reporter Mireya Villarreal; CBS News former standards and foreign editor Tony Cavin; CBS News executive producer of Special Events Eva Nordstrom; and senior executive producer for streaming service CBSN Darius Walker. 

The network has also made new hires and promotions, such as Robert Costa, as chief election and campaign correspondent; Anthony Galloway, as senior vice president of CBS News Streaming; and Scott Macfarlane, as congressional correspondent.

Some believe CBS CEO George Cheeks tapped Khemlani at the behest of ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish and chair Shari Redstone to chop overhead at CBS and merge it with Comcast, which already has a news division. Others say that the steep cuts are related to Viacom’s 2019 merger with CBS, which promised cost synergies of $300 million in 2020 and a three-year target of $800 million.

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