Ramaswamy Urges BuzzFeed to Cut Jobs, Air More Conservative Voices

(Bloomberg) -- Former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy is calling for “large-scale” job cuts, three board seats and more conservative voices at BuzzFeed Inc. according to a letter to the company’s board that was reviewed by Bloomberg News.

Most Read from Bloomberg

The biotech entrepreneur said in the letter that the New York-based media company needs to refocus its business around online videos such as its Hot Ones celebrity interview show on YouTube.

Pointing to examples of inaccurate or unverified reports, Ramaswamy called on BuzzFeed to apologize and tell readers it had “repeatedly lied on issues of national importance,” and said the organization has helped foster a feeling of public distrust in the media by publishing a dossier in 2017 by the former British spy Christopher Steele and reporting that Hunter Biden’s emails were stolen, among other incidents.

“You have a historic opportunity to redefine BuzzFeed and set yourself apart from every other major media organization,” he said, adding he wants to see other voices featured, including personalities such as Candace Owens, Tucker Carlson and Aaron Rodgers.

In a seven-page letter, Ramaswamy didn’t name the three directors he’s proposing, but said he wanted them to meet with the board in the next few weeks, and asked the company to act on the nominations by July 15.

BuzzFeed shares soared last week, after Ramaswamy disclosed a roughly 8% stake in the company, worth upwards of $8 million at market open on Tuesday, and a desire to engage with the board. Shares were up 6.8% to $2.99 at 9:41 a.m. in New York. In the letter, he said he continues to increase his position.

It’s uncertain how much success Ramaswamy will have as an activist, given that BuzzFeed’s co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Jonah Peretti, owns a majority of the Class B supervoting shares.

Ramaswamy is now among the largest owners of class A shares. Comcast Corp. sold roughly $10 million worth last week, cashing in on the activist-spurred rally.

“Based on your letter, you have some fundamental misunderstandings about the drivers of our business, the values of our audience, and the mission of the company,” Peretti wrote in a response to Ramaswamy on Monday. “I’m very skeptical it makes business sense to turn BuzzFeed into a creator platform for inflammatory political pundits. And we’re definitely not going to issue an apology for our Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism. That said, I welcome outside perspectives from shareholders and am open to hearing more from you.”

Ramaswamy dropped from the presidential race in January and endorsed Donald Trump. The former president has expressed interest in giving Ramaswamy a cabinet position should he win again.

Ramaswamy made his fortune as a hedge fund manager turned pharmaceutical executive. In 2015, he led now-deceased Axovant Sciences through a $360 million public offering, one of the largest pre-revenue biotech IPOs on record. He later founded and took public pharmaceutical company Roivant Sciences Ltd. via SPAC in 2021.

In 2022, Ramaswamy co-founded Strive Asset Management, an “anti-woke” fund to compete with ESG investments from companies like BlackRock Inc. Last year, he stepped away from Strive to focus on his campaign and said he isn’t returning.

BuzzFeed, famous for its personalized quizzes and lists of “bests,” has struggled since going public in 2021. Last year, the company closed its news division as part of wider layoffs. Earlier this year, it sold media company Complex for $108.6 million and cut 16% of staff to reduce costs.

--With assistance from Molly Schuetz.

(Updates with share price move in sixth paragraph and comment from BuzzFeed CEO in ninth paragraph.)

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.