Changing of the Guard
As magazine losses mount, CEOs are looking for (or are being shown?) the door.
The resignations of top publishing executives is adding up. In July, Jim Spanfeller said he will be leaving Forbes.com as president and CEO before the end of August. Less than two weeks later, Rodale president and CEO Steven Pleshette Murphy and Reed Business Information U.S. CEO Tad Smith resigned (on the same day) from their chief executive posts.
Do these departures represent a natural changing of the guard among top management, or were these longtime chief executives pushed out amid declining ad pages and dwindling revenues?
In the case of Tad Smith, a pair of fellow b-to-b CEOs speculate he was planning his exit from RBI well before London-based parent Reed Elsevier put most of its U.S. properties back on the block.
āHe couldnāt have relished the thought of going through another sales process on the heels of the earlier failed attempt,ā one CEO says. āI donāt think his leaving will have much effect on the sales process, its outcome or what happens next. Management knows what it wants, which is out of the b-to-b publishing business.ā
RBIās executive vice president and CFO John Poulin was appointed acting CEO. According to one b-to-b CEO, the person who replaces Smith full-time will obviously depend on the buyer. āI would venture it will be somebody from outside b-to-b media,ā one CEO says.
āTadās leaving means RBI gets to trim its corporate overhead, which is huge, and that he gets a payout on his contract,ā another chief executive says of Smithās departure. āNo doubt, he was paid.ā
Two weeks after resigning, Smith landed at Cablevision Systems Corp. as president of its newly-created local media group. āTad was never a b-to-b guy,ā another CEO says. āThe fact that Tad landed this as soon as he did likely means he has been looking for a while.Ā I would expect that this is an interim position until Tad gets his own deal running a media company.ā
The source speculated that Smith might eventually wind up working with Strauss Zelnick, chairman of video game developer Take-Two Interactive. āTheyāre good friends,ā he says.
āThatās Just Crappy Reportingā
When Forbes announced that Jim Spanfeller was stepping down, news reports immediately speculated that the longtime online chief was pressured to leave by Forbes investor Elevation Partners. āThatās just crappy reporting,ā Spanfeller told Folio:. āUnless Elevation Partners has the ability to stick thoughts in my head, they had nothing to do with my decision.ā
Spanfellerāwho plans to launch a media management firm this fall to manage and build up publishersā online businessesāalso discredited reports of being pushed out due to declining traffic at Forbes.com. āEven if one says weāre down slightly over a couple of months, the truth is that Forbes.com is up from half a million uniques in 2001 to 18 to 20 million today,ā says Spanfeller. At presstime, the search for his replacement was still underway.
Getting Out While the Getting Is Good?
In announcing his resignation as Rodale CEO, Steven Pleshette Murphy said he decided not to renew his contract āto take time off to pursue my own creative interests.ā Chairman Maria Rodale was tapped to succeed Murphy as CEO.
During his nine-year tenure as chief executive, Rodale says it experienced the most profitable period in its history. But ad pages across its six titles tracked by PIB were down a collective 17.92 percent in the first half of 2009.
āThat so many CEOs are leaving or are being asked to leave isnāt surprisingāitās a time of turmoil and very limited success,ā said one publishing CEO who wished to remain anonymous. āAlmost every company is on a losing streak and, just as in sports, owners fire managers and coaches, not the players.ā