Izzy Asper confirms plans to step down


Winnipeg, - Knowing when to bow out gracefully is a key part of business planning, says the man who made CanWest Global Communications Corp. into Canada's No. 1 media company.

``Going when it's time to go is critical to the ongoing viability and development of a company,'' Israel (Izzy) Asper said after
CanWest's annual meeting last week, where he stepped down as executive chairman.

He remains chairman of the board but will no longer take an active role in the day-to-day operation of the media empire he built over the last 25 years, starting with a single Winnipeg television station.

``You have to be very hard-nosed about it, very disciplined about it and you pick your time, you groom your successors and you walk out that door and you don't go back in,'' Asper said.

A trademark cigarette dangling from his fingers, Asper, 70, plans to remain active as the head of two charitable foundations created
by his family and his business and to undertake any special projects the board wants him to handle.

He's also turned his passion for jazz into a business asset, with a new jazz-format radio station starting up in Winnipeg in March.

CanWest wants to bolster its radio assets and has applications with the CRTC to create new stations in Kitchener, Ont., and Montreal.

Asper's successor as chief executive, his youngest son Leonard, is already at the helm of the Canwest operation but he doesn't share
his father's vision of the senior Asper simply fading into the background.

``I'll continue to get the last word in,'' he joked. ``Yes dad, yes dad, whatever you say dad.''

Shareholders were told the company has no plans to undertake a more aggressive effort to reduce its $3.8-billion debt, amassed largely as a result of its takeover of the Southam newspaper group three years ago.

Instead, the younger Asper outlined a steady four-year plan to reduce debt principal by $625 million without any major asset sales.

That doesn't mean some assets may not be sold, but Asper repeated that CanWest isn't letting anything go at prices that don't reflect
their true value.

Shareholders seemed to have no problems with the strategy. The only question came from one elderly gentleman who asked why the print in CanWest newspapers wasn't a bit larger.

``I can't read the damn things myself,'' said Izzy Asper.

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