Private Equity’s Big Names
Ted Forstmann. Jim Dunning. Dick Swank. Gerry Hogan and Blair Schmidt-Fellner. Masayoshi Son. The list of significant players in the history of magazines and private equity is long and impressive. Among the many ways private equity has influenced the industry is the ability to attract talent.
Former publishing executives from companies of all stripes have found in private equity an avenue to get rich, to build something, to start fresh.
Here is a look at a select group of executives whose careers were transformed by private equity, and where they are now.
THEN: Gerald Hobbs, a former CEO of Billboard Publications, recognized a good thing in Billboard when he saw it. He sold the company twice, eventually to VNU where he became CEO and then vice chairman of the executive board.
NOW: Billboard was once a Boston Ventures portfolio company and Hobbs’s dealings with them came full circle in 2005 when he joined the private equity company full time as managing director and operating partner.
Gerald Hobbs, over his 37-year publishing career, has shown a knack for knowing a company’s potential. He began his publishing career with Billboard Publications, Inc. in 1969.
From there, he sold it not once, but twice, and effectively built up what would eventually become a core group in VNU’s portfolio. In 1984, he lead a management buyout of the company and then sold it to Boston Globe publisher Affiliated Publications two years later and remained as CEO. During this period he added titles such as The Hollywood Reporter, Adweek and Architecture to BPI’s assets.
In 1991, Hobbs teamed with Boston Ventures to buy back a majority interest in BPI. Three years later he sold BPI to VNU and became CEO of VNU U.S.
After a vice chairmanship tenure on VNU N.V.’s executive board, Hobbs’ relationship with Boston Ventures came full circle when he rejoined the private equity firm in 2005 as managing director and operating partner. More recently, they backed former F+W CEO Steve Kent with $50 million in New Track Media, a roll-up in the special interest consumer publishing area, says Hobbs.
THEN: Former vice chairman and founder of 101communications. A dealmaker not an operator, Slapin left the company as it was reeling toward extinction during the recession of 2001-2002.
NOW: For the past four years, Slapin has focused primarily on consulting and involvement on a variety of nonprofit boards. He’s still looking for deals, but not too hard.
Bill Slapin is credited, along with Curt Hessler and Jeff Klein, with forming 101communications as a roll-up company in 1998. Slapin and Hessler partnered with Frontenac Co. and began an aggressive acquisition campaign to roll up magazine companies in the IT space—10 were completed in the company’s first 22 months.
In 2000, Hessler had stated that he expected to build 101 to a $100 to $200 million company. That didn’t quite happen. Shortly thereafter, the tech market bottomed out and so did 101. At the time of its sale to Neal Vitale’s (also profiled here) 1105 Media in 2006, 101 was a $53 million company. Yet the company managed admirably under Klein’s leadership in the last few years, growing profits about 25 percent per year.
Slapin exited about four years ago, along with Hessler, amid turmoil as the company was suffocating in the vacuum of the tech market collapse. Since then, he’s been quiet on the deal front. “I’ve been doing a little consulting and serving on some nonprofit boards,” he says. “I’m looking for the next opportunity and when it surfaces I’ll know it. If it doesn’t surface, the world won’t end.”
Slapin added that he’s open to most markets and isn’t necessarily focusing on anything in particular. “I see myself more as a board member than anything else at this point,” he says.
THEN: Former president and CEO of Cowles Business Media and Primedia’s Enthusiast group. Formed Gallarus Media Holdings in 2001; bought Network Communications in 2002.
NOW: McCarthy sold NCI to Citigroup Venture Capital Equity Partners for $380 million in 2005. McCarthy has stayed
on as CEO.
Dan McCarthy, formerly CEO of Primedia’s enthusiast group from 1998 to 2000, formed Gallarus Media Holdings in 2001 after a short stint with a Web-based enthusiast operation called Themestream. Gallarus was backed by private equity firm ABRY. McCarthy’s first acquisition was Network Communications in 2002, a $90 million company at the time. In three years, McCarthy boosted revenues to over $150 million, finally selling it to Citigroup Venture Capital Equity partners for $380 million—effectively ending ABRY’s stake.
McCarthy has stayed on with Network Communications as CEO and the second largest shareholder behind Citigroup. He plans to take the company to $300 million in revenues in five years, primarily by adding real estate customers and looking for expansion opportunities in other lead-generating markets, like automotive, employment, and boating publications.
THEN: Co-founded Primedia in 1989, then ousted by KKR in 1999. Bounced back by forming Aurelian Communications in 2000. Partnered with Providence Equity Partners in 2002 to make his first acquisition via F+W. Sold that in 2006 for $500 million to ABRY, which subsequently sued, alleging inflated revenues.
NOW: With the ABRY suit settled, Reilly is back in the game with Aurelian with plans to do another build-up. Providence Equity Partners is backing him with $500 million.
Bill Reilly was a Primedia cofounder (along with Charles McCurdy and Beverly Chell in 1989 as K-III Communications) and CEO and one of several former Primedia execs who entered the private equity arena. Reilly was reportedly ousted by private equity giant KKR in 1999 for not being aggressive enough in tying the company’s fortunes to the then-exploding, and soon to implode, Internet market.
He formed Aurelian Communications as a personal holding company and acquisition vehicle shortly after leaving Primedia. His first acquisition was F+W Publications in 2002 which he bought for $130 million in a partnership with Providence Equity Partners. He subsequently became CEO, then cashed out at the company’s controversial sale to ABRY for $500 million in 2006. ABRY subsequently filed suit against F+W backer Providence Equity Partners over alleged inflated financials. The suit was settled in July for undisclosed terms.
With that behind him Reilly has restarted his partnership with Providence, which has committed $500 million, and he’s already begun submitting bids on companies. “We’ve bid on four so far,” he says, adding, “We’re 0 for 4 so far, but we’re not under any pressure.”
Reilly says that with debt capacity at another $500 million, he has $1 billion at his disposal. He has also been given a seat on the F+W board.
THEN: Vitale held executive roles at Reed Elsevier and Petersen Publishing, where he was CEO and one of four acquiring executives in 1996. He left Petersen in 1998 as a result of a management shake-up.
NOW: Eight years later, Vitale resurfaces as CEO of 1105 Media, a portfolio company with backing from Nautic Partners and Alta Communications. First acquisitions are 101communications and Stevens Publishing.
Formerly CEO at Petersen Publishing and group vice president at Reed Elsevier, Vitale has emerged as one of the latest operating CEOs with private equity backing—in this case, a three-way partnership between Vitale’s 1105 Media, Nautic Partners and Alta Communications. Vitale, essentially out of the magazine business for eight years but actively looking for an acquisition for the last couple, resurfaced in dramatic fashion with two acquisitions only a week apart. The first was Chatsworth, California-based IT publisher 101communications, quickly followed by Dallas-based industrial health and environmental safety publisher Stevens Publishing.
101 was purchased from private equity firm Frontenac Co. in April for approximately $75 million. Frontenac backed Bill Slapin to form 101communications in 1998.
Vitale was part of the group of executives that acquired Petersen in 1996 for $440 million. He served as CEO until he left in a management shake-up in 1998. Petersen was sold in 1999 to Emap for $1.5 billion.
Estimated 2006 revenues for 1105 are $75 million. Revenues for 101 and Stevens at the time of acquisition were estimated at $53 million and $20 million respectively.
On the surface, 101 and Stevens may not seem all that synergistic but Vitale may not necessarily be focusing on perfect strategic fit for future targets. “A number of the Stevens markets are related to the public sector, so there is a nominal fit on that level. We’re just looking for products that are good fits—good assets. That is the way we are thinking about it,” he said in an interview with FOLIO: in April.