By Svea Herbst-Bayliss
(Reuters) – The chief executive officer of Tegna Inc on Tuesday apologized for having mistaken a Black executive, who this year became a candidate for the broadcast company’s board, for a hotel car valet in 2014.
Adonis Hoffman, a lawyer, media expert and independent corporate director, withdrew his candidacy last Thursday, citing conflicts of interest and the incident seven years ago involving CEO Dave Lougee. (https://bit.ly/3rvhqGd)
Lougee, who was president of Tegna, then known as Gannett Co’s broadcasting unit, and Hoffman, who was serving as chief of staff for then-commissioner Mignon Clyburn of the Federal Communications Commission, sat at the same table – with one person between them – at an industry luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Washington in early 2014.
As Hoffman waited outside for a taxi, Lougee came through the crowd with a card in his hand that Hoffman at first took for a business card. It was the parking valet stub, and Lougee told a confused Hoffman he thought he was one of the “parking guys.”
“I’m not hypersensitive, but my guard was down because we had just had 1-1/2 hours of conversation,” Hoffman said, recalling the event in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday.
In a letter to Tegna colleagues made public on Tuesday in a regulatory finding, Lougee said he immediately apologized to Hoffman and “felt terrible” about the matter.
“I don’t condone racism of any kind, I take full responsibility for this mistake, and am truly sorry for the pain I caused Mr. Hoffman,” Lougee wrote to colleagues, saying he wanted them to hear about the incident directly from him.
“If he apologized to me at the time, I don’t remember it,” Hoffman said.
Tegna declined to make Lougee available for comment beyond the letter. Tegna said in the regulatory filing on Tuesday that its board approached the incident with “utmost seriousness, given the concerns related by Mr. Hoffman.”
It hired law firm Ropes & Gray to interview Lougee, and asked its chief human resources officer to conduct a full review of Lougee’s Human Resources file.
The Virginia-based company last year created a new position of chief diversity officer reporting to Lougee.
Hoffman was one of four directors nominated to Tegna’s board by hedge fund Standard General on Jan. 21.
It is the second time in two years that Standard General, which owns a 7.9% stake in Tegna, is challenging Tegna. None of its nominees was elected to the board last year.
Hoffman said he was honored to be selected as a nominee at a time few U.S. companies have Black directors. Later he said he was forced to focus on his potential conflicts and, since he still works in television, he said his lawyers had said there may appear to be conflicts.
After focusing on those conflicts of interest and the incident with Lougee, he decided he had to withdraw.
If elected “I would be in a board room with someone who didn’t see me,” Hoffman said, adding that he had no animus toward Lougee and that he accepted the CEO’s explanation.
(Reporting by Eva Mathews in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss in Boston; Editing by Howard Goller)