Austin Beutner, the civic leader and former Wall Street investment banker, is the new publisher and chief executive of the Los Angeles Times.
Beutner, 54, who served as first deputy mayor of Los Angeles for more than a year and briefly explored a run for mayor himself, succeeds Eddy W. Hartenstein as Times publisher.
Hartenstein said that he recommended Beutner for the position and that the board of Tribune Publishing Co., The Times’ new corporate parent, approved the appointment last week.
“I wanted to find someone who was clearly steeped and invested in the city, and who has the same belief that I do, which is that a democracy doesn’t work without a vibrant Fourth Estate,” said Hartenstein, who was publisher for six years.
Beutner described himself as “a news junkie” who has read The Times regularly since he moved to Southern California in 2000.
“I start my morning with a bowl of cereal and the newspaper laid out on the table in front of me,” he said in an interview.
Beutner assumes the job at a time when newspaper companies are battling declines in print advertising revenue and trying to find renewed prosperity on the Web. The Times, like other major newspapers, has a large and growing digital readership, but most of its revenue comes from the print newspaper.
Beutner said The Times must explore new revenue streams but did not provide specific ideas.
“I come to listen, learn and work with a lot of the talented folks who are there,” he said. “I don’t have preconceived notions. I know we’ll continue to be faced with hard choices.”
He added: “It’s an organization that has to change in order to prosper. If they’re looking for a caretaker, they picked the wrong guy.”
Noting that he reads The Times on his smartphone or on a tablet as well as in print, Beutner said digital technologies offer “real business opportunities for us.”
Addressing an auditorium full of Times employees Monday morning, the new publisher urged them to be “fast followers” of promising developments in digital media, open to experimenting with new ways of engaging readers and generating revenue.
In the interview, Beutner described himself as “a Los Angeles booster” but also a supporter of “editorial independence.” He said he does not see those roles as contradictory.
“It’s not the job of the publisher to dictate coverage. If I get a call from someone I know, I’ll give them Davan’s number,” he said, referring to Times Editor Davan Maharaj.
Beutner added: “The role of the paper is pretty clear. We’re the civic conscience. If we don’t ask the hard questions, who will?”
He is a New York native who grew up in Michigan, the son of a schoolteacher and a manufacturing engineer.
Beutner graduated from Dartmouth College in 1982 with a degree in economics and went to work as a financial analyst for Smith Barney.
He later joined the Blackstone Group in New York, one of the world’s largest private equity firms, and at 29 became its youngest partner.
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Clinton administration tapped Beutner to work for the U.S. government in aiding Russia’s transition from communism to a free-market economy.
In the mid-1990s, he co-founded the New York investment banking firm Evercore Partners. He moved to Los Angeles in 2000 in conjunction with the company’s expansion.
When Evercore went public in 2006, Beutner reportedly made more than $100 million — a figure he did not dispute but declined to confirm.
In 2007, Beutner broke his neck after misjudging a turn while bicycling in the Santa Monica Mountains and was airlifted to a hospital. It took him a year to make a full recovery.
He left Evercore and poured his energies into civic and philanthropic pursuits.
“As I was lying on my back recovering in the hospital, I realized I was still pretty young,” Beutner said. “For me, it was a chance to open the next chapter.”
In 2010, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed Beutner deputy mayor of economic development, or “jobs czar,” overseeing 13 city departments and the Port of Los Angeles. He helped to streamline the business-permitting process and led the effort to pass a tax break to lure companies to Los Angeles.
Beutner accepted a $1-a-year salary and held the job for 15 months. In April 2011 he filed papers to explore a run for mayor. Espousing a business-friendly platform, he was critical of City Hall, at one point calling it a “barnyard,” an assessment he still stands by.
He dropped out of the race after a year, saying he wanted to spend more time with his wife, Virginia, who is a former book editor, and four children.
“He’s not flamboyant,” said Antonia Hernandez, head of the California Community Foundation, who has worked with Beutner in civic and philanthropic efforts. “I’d say he’s a bit on the shy side. What’s important is how deeply he cares about L.A. He’s extremely bright and he’s very well connected.”
Beutner served as co-chairman of the Los Angeles 2020 Commission, a panel of business, labor and civic leaders created to propose solutions to the city’s budget problems and ways to spur job growth.
In April, the panel made a host of recommendations, including an increase in the minimum wage, the creation of a regional tourism authority and the merger of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Mickey Kantor, a former U.S. secretary of Commerce who served as the commission’s co-chairman and has known Beutner for years, described him as “one of the best analytical minds I’ve ever run into,” adding: “He’s not tied to the past. He’s willing to take some chances.”
Beutner serves as board chairman of CalArts and the Broad Stage. In 2012, he founded Vision to Learn, a nonprofit that has given free eyeglasses to 25,000 schoolchildren in Los Angeles, Sacramento and Oakland, with positive results for the children’s academic performance.
“It’s a classic Austin approach — a simple idea no one else had thought of. He had the patience and determination to push it through all the bureaucratic hoops,” said his friend Bruce Reed, who is president of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and was previously a top domestic policy advisor to President Clinton and chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden. “He’s one of the shrewdest, most innovative civic leaders in the country.”
In 2013, Beutner explored a possible purchase of The Times, an effort he described Monday as “pretty serious.”
His appointment as publisher comes a week after Tribune Co. spun off the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and eight other daily papers into a stand-alone company, Tribune Publishing Co.
Beutner is the 14th publisher in the newspaper’s 132-year history. He will report to Tribune Publishing Chief Executive Jack Griffin, who has identified “digital growth areas” as keys to the company’s future. Hartenstein becomes nonexecutive chairman of Tribune Publishing.
Beutner said he sees his new job as a logical extension of his civic undertakings of recent years. “I’d like to help the city to thrive,” he said.