New York Times Co. vice chairman Michael Golden told Boston Globe employees Friday that the company has a duty to seek the highest bidder in a sale but hopes to leave the newspaper in responsible hands.
“We have no intention to send the New England Media Group to the slaughterhouse,” he said in one of three town-hall style meetings with employees.
Golden came to Boston to discuss the Times Co.’s plan to sell the Globe, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and their related web sites. In the meetings, he was pressed to respond to questions about what kind of buyer the Times would seek.
“We will take what we consider to be the best bid,’’ Golden said, describing a process that he estimated would take six to nine months. Price is important, he said, but there will be latitude as the Times reviews buyers. When pressed by employees, he said leaving the Globe in responsible hands will be a consideration.
“We’re interested in the long-term future of the New England Media Group,’’ Golden said.
Golden would not comment on price or on potential buyers. He said all interested parties would have to submit bids to Evercore Partners, the company’s investment banker. He said no minimum bid had been set.
The Globe reported Friday that the price could range from $80 million to $120 million, based on interviews with Wall Street analysts and former newspaper executives. If the bidding is competitive, the price could go as high as $150 million, those sources said.
Golden said the industry environment has improved markedly since the Times last tried to sell the Globe in 2009, and that more investors are interested in buying newspapers. For instance, he said, billionaire Warren Buffett, who for years shunned investing in newspapers, is now buying papers across the US.
As employees wondered about their future without Times Co. ownership, Golden suggested it could be an opportunity for the Globe. He said that as an independent business, the Globe will no longer have to contribute tens of millions of dollars per year to the Times Co. to help fund overall operations. “Your cash flow will suddenly take a meaningful step up,’’ he said.
Golden also confirmed that the Globe is “cash-flow positive,” meaning it makes an operating profit on its business. In 2009, the Times Co. threatened to shut down the Globe because it was losing money.
Fielding questions from employees concerned about their pensions, Golden assured them their retirement money was safe. He said the Globe pensions were 80 to 85 percent funded, and that the Times Co. sees funding the remainder “quite manageable.”
He confirmed reports by the Globe that the Times Co. will probably retain responsibility for the pension obligations rather than trying to transfer it to the Globe’s new owner. The Times Co. did that in other recent sales of media properties, he said. He indicated that the pension liabilities would not be an “impediment” to getting a deal done.
Golden said there are no plans to implement cost cuts or layoffs in advance of a sale.
Globe publisher Christopher Mayer said union negotiations underway with a number of the company’s workers will continue “as usual.”
At least two potential buyers emerged. Ernie Boch Jr., owner of Boch Automotive Dealerships, expressed interest in a statement released Friday. Rick Daniels, former president of the Globe and newspaper publisher GateHouse Media’s New England branch, is part of a group in talks with the Times, the Wall Street Journal reported.Beth Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.