Penton Media will name a new CEO in the next 30 to 60 days, and when it does, the executive will likely come from outside of b-to-b publishing, Anup Bagaria, vice chairman of Penton owner Wasserstein & Co. said Thursday.
Bagaria’s comment is significant because it indicates how Wasserstein executives view the future of Penton, and that future is likely to be e-media centric. “We’re talking to a lot of people, but it’s more likely to be from outside the industry,” Bagaria told me.
Which means Penton, like Cygnus Business Media and the old Primedia, is at a crossroads.
As formerly print-based publishing companies struggle to transform themselves, they’ve found a clash of business imperatives that sometimes seems intractable. On the one hand, you have a rank-and-file organization and culture that has come up through print and is comfortable with its complex rhythms. As e-media grows, it’s not so much that these employees resist change or fundamentally don’t understand how to exploit online opportunities (although there is some of that, for sure)—it’s more that they’re scrambling to hit enormous print budgets even as print recedes, and at the same time trying to build out e-businesses.
When companies try to shift the emphasis, they often bring in executives from outside the industry who are charged with transformation. Those executives don’t understand the complexities of print media and are sometimes contemptuous of the culture, which they consider hidebound. But they almost never do what really needs to be done in a transformative environment, which is acknowledge that print is declining and massively reduce print budgets, right-size the workforce, take the revenue hit and free their remaining people up to attack the growing areas of the business.
And thus, they condemn themselves to failure.
So whoever the new Penton CEO is, that’s the challenge.