The Unusual Story of How CMP’s Weitzner Ended Up at Rival Ziff
“It’s unbelievable,” says an observer. “You never see this.”
The departure of CMP Technology’s former CEO Steve Weitzner to competing publisher Ziff Davis Enterprise as chairman and CEO has some in the industry scratching their heads.
It was only two months ago that Weitzner was named head of international M&A and business development for CMP’s parent company, United Kingdom-based United Business Media. That left UBM CEO David Levin running CMP Technology in the interim (which continues).
"It’s unbelievable that CMP let their former CEO walk directly to their major competition," one industry observer tells FOLIO:. "You never see this. The fact that they didn’t protect their business implies that he didn’t have a non-compete. If he didn’t have a non-compete, he also didn’t have a non-solicit. They often go hand-in-hand. Who’s to say he’s not prevented from soliciting the best talent from CMP? That’s bad management."
What happened, one observer said, was that when Weitzner’s predecessor, Gary Marshall, left the company in 2005, Weitzner took over as CEO without a contract. When he was shifted out of the CEO post, he began negotiating a separation agreement, and that process had apparently not concluded when Ziff came knocking, the source said. "They were offering a CEO the kind of agreement they give to junior editors," the source said. "Every company has every right to replace a CEO, but do it in a classy way. Do it in a way that preserves the integrity of the office."
The source said the loss of Weitzner follows a pattern seen with other CMP executives. "This has led them to have egg on their face," he said. "How they treated Steve is something that’s going to have an effect on the search for a replacement–Steve was doing a good job. People loved him."
Another observer noted that the move makes sense for Weitzner. "He gets to be the top guy at ZDE," the source wrote in an e-mail to FOLIO:. "I’m sure CMP did not want him to go to ZDE, but when/if he is getting a chance to make some real money with a private equity employer, it is hard to counter."
A CMP spokeswoman declined to comment on Weitzner’s departure, including specific questions concerning a non-compete clause, other than to say the company "wishes him well."
Time for Change
Weitzner himself declined to respond to direct questions about the nature of his departure, but he offered some insight as to why he decided to join ZDE. "I had a long and rewarding run at CMP, but it was time for a change," Weitzner said in an e-mail. Weitzner joined CMP more than two decades ago, and served a number of roles including associate editor, COO and CEO. "This was an opportunity to take the lead at a company that has only recently emerged from a corporate parent. All of the ingredients are here–great people, products and a long tradition of winning. But, we also have the opportunity to create an entrepreneurial startup environment and several successful entrepreneurs are on our management team."
As CEO, Weitzner oversaw a dramatic restructuring at CMP Technology in which the company laid off 200 employees last June, either folded or converted a number of its print titles to online, and acquired additional digital products, effectively shifting its focus to digital media. CMP Technology this summer also acquired a number of informational Web sites, including HowMachinesWork.com, and purchased Semiconductor Insights, a media and consulting services company targeting the global semiconductor industry, for $26 million.
ZDE, publisher of titles such as Baseline, CIO Insight and eWeek, was formed last June when Ziff Davis sold the group to Insight Venture Partners for $150 million. Weitzner says he is looking forward to further developing the company’s stable of live events, e-seminars and virtual trade shows.
"Less well-known are the capabilities that ZDE has added through acquisition and merger over the last few years. Many marketers and advertisers will be aware of DevShed a leading network for software developers-but not everyone realizes that DevShed is an integral part of ZDE," he wrote. Weitzner believes that ZDE’s Web Buyer’s Guide, an information source for IT buyers and a service demand generation system for marketers, will "sit at the center of the ZDE offering going forward."