VNU CEO Krakoff Sees Expansion of Existing Brands As First Priority
On the heels of two major executive changes at VNU Business Media this week, the company’s new CEO Robert Krakoff talks to Folio: about what the future holds for the publisher of Billboard Magazine and why he’s not ready to retire after more than 30 years in the publishing industry.
Krakoff takes over for VNU Business Media CEO Michael Marchesano, who has been promoted to the newly created position of executive vice president and chief transformation officer of the company’s Project Forward, a three-year program designed to further reduce costs, enhance margins and more effectively leverage VNU’s resources to improve its competitive position and fund future growth.
The changes at VNU are the first of what some predict as many since a consortium of private equity firms called Valcon Acquisition B.V. purchased VNU for $9.7 billion. Krakoff’s new position completes a career trifecta, giving him the distinction of having helmed three of the largest b-to-b media companies inthe industry. Although he has been running his own consulting firm, Blantyre Partners for the past two years, he chairman and CEO of Advanstar, Inc., parent to Advanstar Communications for the eight preceeding years. Before that, he spent 23 years at Reed Elsevier, as vice chairman of Reed Elsevier USA, director of Reed Elsevier plc, and chairman and CEO of Cahners Publishing Company.
When do you start your new position?
Today (Thursday), I’m sitting in the VNU Business offices as we speak.
So you’ve been running your own consulting business, what made you decide to jump back into the corporate fray?
Blantyre Partners was set up as a vehicle to do consulting work, but in the last two years we’ve been working with the Blackstone Group, which is a media investment firm. And, as it turns out, Blackstone became one of the six private equity bidders to buy VNU. And I have been worked working all along with the Valcom consortium researching VNU’s b-to-b side and doing all of the due diligence that goes along with that. So it was a pretty seamless transition for me to move into the role of CEO.
What specifically interests you about VNU’s b-to-b brands?
Several things. First of all, they have fantastic brands that are household names like The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard Magazine and their market position in the b-to-b space is very strong. Many of their trade shows are No. 1 in their categories and its created a terrific platform on which to continue to grow.
What are your immediate plans?
Well, it’s my first day, so I’ll probably try to find the coffee machine and then maybe the men’s room. Seriously though, the company’s been in a really unsettled condition over the last several months beginning with the IMS merger that didn’t happen and the CEO leaving. It’s not business as usual. We’re not focused on growth and strategic investing, but on igniting a whole review of the portfolio as a whole and its long-term value.
Where would you like to see the company a year from now?
Hopefully, we’ll be doing two very different things. We’ll be focused on Project Forward, which is not a just a cost-cutting process. It’s cost-cutting in the strategic sense by using our existing titles, trade shows and other brands and making them into market leaders by expanding their market share and dollar. It’s taking our recognizable brands like The Hollywood Reporter and the Kitchen and Bath Show and looking at what we can do to better meet our customers’ needs. We’re also going to take a step back and look at the company as whole. Right now, VNU is basically run as three separate businesses AC Nielsen, Nielsen Media Research and the business media side. We want to start looking at the company and ways we can improve profitability within the company as a whole.
Someone recently described you as the guy who won’t retire.
I play golf. I have a 25 handicap. It’s not the physical process in golf, it’s the mental process. If I were to retire and play golf five times a week, making all those mistakes would be mental torture. And I’ve always enjoyed business, so why stop doing it.