In my experience covering magazine publishing, which is now getting pretty extensive, Bob Krakoff was one of the towering figures. He was a luminary. In fact, the man we put on our February cover was a leading figure in the b-to-b media business, beyond his own company, from the early nineties on.
Bob made things happen. He was a leader in many ways, but three things stand out for me.
He was an early player in private-equity, having teamed up with Hellman & Friedman in 1996 to buy Advanstar. He was an innovator in corporate structure, organizing first Advanstar and then VNU/Nielsen into market-facing clusters rather than the traditional product-oriented management scheme. And his financial-management skills made him an attractive partner to PE, moving from Hellman & Friedman to DLJ Merchant Banking Partners with Advanstar, and on to the five-firm Valcon consortium, a group of PE firms that acquired VNU last year. Krakoff had worked with one of those firms;the Blackstone Group.
Another thing that strikes me about Bob: He was always accessible to the media. Over the last five years or so, I’d e-mail him asking for a tip on some rumor, affecting one of his companies or some other thing. I wouldn’t always get substance, but I’d always get a reply, usually within a few minutes. They’d usually be cryptic: “Can’t say.” I’d send a follow-up question. “No.” I’d send another. “Don’t know,” with the little line at the bottom, “Sent from my Blackberry.”
Often though, Bob’s two-word answer was enough for me to confirm a hunch and go off in another direction. Sometimes Bob would provide some juicy insider nugget, or some tart-but-spot-on observation about the industry, or even the perfect quote. He was like Frank Anton that way;really colorful quotes.
For a journalist, Bob was a joy to work with because he was always accessible and he was honest. You’d never get told something misleading, you knew he knew everything, but he’d just e-mail, “Can’t say,” and you wouldn’t be mad. Sometimes he’d chide you for having a fact wrong, but again, you wouldn’t get mad.
The Hollywood Reporter in its obituary said Bob was “brought out of his second retirement” to run Nielsen Business Media, but I guarantee he was not “brought out.” Knowing Bob, he never retired.