And then there were three.
With last week's announcement that Bill Pollak will step down as president-CEO of ALM next year, three prominent b-to-b media companies are now searching for new executive leadership. Penton Media and Summit Business Media are also in the market for new CEOs.
There are strong similarities among the three companies. Each is or has been owned by private equity funds, underwent a financial restructuring in the wake of the downturn and, like virtually all b-to-b media companies, is grappling with the shift from print to digital.
Industry observers speculate that the owners of these companies may do some fishing outside the usual talent pools when looking for new CEOs.
“My theory is they're going to go outside the industry just like ABM [American Business Media] did and look for people from Silicon Valley who can lead them into the digital age,” said one industry observer. Last year, ABM hired Clark Pettit, who had experience as a digital executive, when it was looking for a new president-CEO.
In the case of Pollak at ALM, which publishes The American Lawyer, he is widely considered a leader in seizing digital opportunities. He has urged all business media companies to explore social media opportunities, made paid digital content a priority and backed efforts such as Smart Litigator, a service that places paid digital content into the daily work flow of ALM's audience of attorneys.
But despite Pollak's strong moves in digital, industry sources speculate the new reality of tablets and smartphones may lead media owners to believe they require a digital native at the helm. In a statement, Pollak said, “With this transformation [into a digitally focused enterprise] nearing completion and the organization now well-structured for the exciting next phase in ALM's strong growth path, I felt this was a good time to step aside and make way for a new chief executive who can lead the company to even greater success.”
(Pollak could not be reached for comment for this story.)
Others speculate that Pollak's departure simply reflects ALM owner Apax Partners' desire to put its own stamp on the company. Pollak served during the ownership of U.S. Equity Partners, which sold ALM for $630 million to Apax's Incisive Media in 2007. He continued as CEO after the ownership change and through the subsequent restructuring two years later. It is unusual for a CEO to last through an acquisition, let alone an acquisition and a restructuring.
Some industry observers compare Pollak's pending departure with Andrew Goodenough's resignation last month as CEO at Summit Business Media, which publishes National Underwriter Life & Health. In working for Summit or businesses that are part of the company, Goodenough toiled for three distinct ownership groups and through a Chapter 11 reorganization that strengthened the company's balance sheet.
Charles McCurdy is a member of Summit's board. He was also the architect of ABM's hiring of Pettit. When asked if Summit might follow ABM's path in hiring an executive with a strong digital background, McCurdy replied, “Summit is a fine company well-positioned in its markets, and it's the board's job to determine who can best lead its evolution as a growing events, digital and publications business. We have numerous strong candidates under consideration, and we are quite confident that we'll have a strong leader in place in due course.”
Penton is searching for a new CEO after the departure of Sharon Rowlands, who took a job as CEO of Altegrity, parent company of businesses such as HireRight, Kroll and USIS that provide information, risk management and employment screening for corporate and government customers. Industry observers view Rowlands' move as an executive simply taking a job with a more promising upside.
A Penton spokesperson said the company's search is ongoing. That search, however—like those of Summit and ALM—may be hindered by the simple fact that attractive candidates may find better options than a post with a company that has financial restructuring in its recent past.