John French Named CEO of Prism/Penton Merger, Company Renamed Penton
Penton CEO David Nussbaum to leave at completion of acquisition, with the new company to operate under Penton Media brand. Two major questions left unanswered following November’s $530 million acquisition of Penton Media by Prism Business Media backer Wasserstein & Co. and co-investor MidOcean Partners – who becomes CEO and what will the merger be called? – were answered today in an announcement. Prism Business Media CEO John French has officially been named CEO of the combined company, with Penton CEO David Nussbaum to depart following the completion of the deal, expected in the first half of 2007. The new company will assume the Penton Media brand. Both executives have had successful runs with their respective companies, however few expected a shared leadership arrangement once the deal was complete. And both have been in the top spot for relatively short periods. Nussbaum, who has been CEO of Penton since 2004, has boosted EBITDA significantly even as revenues remained flat. And French has overseen top- and bottom-line growth during his one-year tenure at Prism. Interestingly, the two executives share a history with Penton. French served 13 years at the company before leaving during a wave of downsizing in 2002, where he was vice president/group director of the Electronics Group, to join Prism predecessor PRIMEDIA. It was Nussbaum who guided the downsizing that resulted in the elimination of French’s job. A Prism spokesman declined to elaborate on the decision process, but ultimately, French had the inside track. "I would say that he was certainly the incumbent because he’s with Prism and I’m sure he had a chance to work closely with [Wasserstein & Co. vice chairman] Anup Bagaria," says Reed Phillips, managing partner at M&A broker DeSilva + Phillips. "Both would have expected to run the company, so [choosing one] was probably the right outcome." "This is what could be construed as a natural process," says Thomas Kemp, managing director at Veronis Suhler Stevenson and former Penton chairman and CEO. "I think the fact that Prism is effectively buying Penton and, from David’s standpoint, it’s a natural progression. It’s a comfortable decision for all parties involved. I can’t say that David did not want the job, but I think he’s probably pleased with the outcome of his tenure, pleased with the outcome of the sale process, and pleased with the treatment from ABRY and the shareholders. It probably would have been more surprising if it had been the other way around." The announcement also states that the combined company will operate under the Penton Media brand. Speculation swirled here as well when the merger was announced last month. Some predicted, correctly in the end, that the company would end up under the Penton brand, which has existed since 1892. Prism is a brand-new name, having been changed from Primedia Business in December 2005. "If you think about it, Prism is a newly established brand with a brand new name and Penton has been around," says Phillips. "For that reason, it made sense to go with that name. Prism doesn’t really have any strong recognition yet in the marketplace."