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 aims 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 websites. In the meetings, he made no promises about what kind of suitors the Times Co. would consider.
But employees pressed him on whether the Globe’s owner of 20 years has a duty to find a buyer who will be a good steward of New England’s largest newspaper.
“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 leaving the Globe in capable 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 the identities of 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 for the Globe and its websites BostonGlobe.com and Boston.com 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 noted, billionaire Warren Buffett, who for years shunned investing in newspapers, is now buying smaller papers across the United States.
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 send 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. 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. kept pension liabilities in other recent sales of media properties, he said. He indicated that the Globe pension plans, which the company froze in 2009, 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.
Meanwhile, some potential buyers made their interest known Friday. Former publisher Ben Taylor, a member of the family that owned the Globe for a century and sold the company to the Times Co. in 1993, said groups of buyers were still in the formation stage. He said he was interested in making sure “the Globe gets in good hands.”
Rick Daniels, a former Globe executive who most recently served as president of Gatehouse Media Inc., and Boston private equity investor Heb Ryan have been in discussions with the Times Co. Last month, they submitted a bid of about $100 million, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The bid included some pension liabilities according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss it publicly.
Ryan, whose mother was a sports reporter in Cleveland, has been interested in buying the Globe since soon after the Times took it off the market in 2009. He previously worked with others who were interested in a Globe purchase.
Ryan did not return calls seeking comment; Daniels declined to comment on a potential purchase. The Wall Street Journal first reported on the pair’s January bid.
Ernie Boch Jr., the auto dealership mogul and a longtime Globe advertiser, issued a statement Friday saying he also was interested in buying the newspaper.
Globe publisher Christopher Mayer said at the employee meetings Friday that union negotiations underway with a number of the company’s workers would continue as normal.
Beth Healy can be reached at email@example.com. Casey Ross of the Globe staff contributed to this report.