Cahners' new CEO not caught up in Web

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For the second time in a row, Reed Elsevier plc selected a former Internet executive as the CEO of its Cahners Business Information unit.

At the peak of the Internet bubble in February 2000, Marc Teren, who headed WashingtonPost.Newsweek Interactive, was named CEO of Cahners. On Jan. 9 of this year, Jim Casella, who was formerly president-CEO of PennWell Corp.’s PennEnergy, a b-to-b Internet marketplace for energy, was named Cahners CEO, filling a vacancy that had been open since Teren was ousted last July.

But this time, Reed Elsevier didn’t hire a CEO for Cahners, which has 135 b-to-b publications, based on his Internet experience. Casella, who will report to Gerard van de Aast, CEO of Reed Elsevier’s Business to Business Division, was picked because of his long history in b-to-b publishing. "We’re going to refocus on our core titles, our core business," Casella said in an interview with BtoB.

Casella has nearly 30 years of experience in publishing. He spent seven years at IDG, eventually holding the title of COO, and was most recently CEO of Round1, a venture capital-backed publishing company.

"He’s a very experienced publishing executive, who is skilled in all aspects of print and electronic media," said Roland DeSilva, managing partner of DeSilva & Phillips Inc. "He came up through the ranks, and there’s nothing that’s going to come at him that he’s going to be surprised by. He is the right man for the job at the right time."

Turbulent times

Despite controlling significant b-to-b brands such as Variety, Restaurants & Institutions and EDN, the Cahners brand has flagged in recent years. The company struggled to digest its 1997 acquisition of Chilton Business Group. It moved unevenly onto the Web, and since Teren’s departure the company had drifted without a permanent CEO.

Teren was brought in to accelerate Cahners’ move to the Web. He helped create a separate Internet division and oversaw a handful of Web-oriented acquisitions, including spending $79 million to buy Web developer eLogic and $299.5 million to acquire construction industry information company CMD Group.

Unluckily for Teren, Internet stock valuations plummeted within two months of his start at Cahners. Suddenly, the Web wasn’t as urgent as it once was, and the focus at Cahners and in b-to-b publishing in general shifted back toward magazines.

"The company has been whipsawed around a bit," said Robert Crosland, managing director of AdMedia Partners. "It could use a dose of stability."

Crosland doesn’t blame Teren, who seemed to be doing at the helm of Cahners what he’d been asked to do. "They didn’t hire the guy to come in and be a big magazine guy. He did what he was hired to do. They [the members of Reed Elsevier’s board of directors] changed their minds," Crosland said.

In the meantime, Cahners trimmed its portfolio in 2001, selling its travel group, metals group, automotive and trucking group, and Contractor magazine. Ironically, the company may be in a better position than b-to-b publishers who moved faster to jump on the Internet and technology bandwagon, industry observers said. Being better off in b-to-b publishing, however, where ad page counts were down nearly 20% in 2001, compared with 2000, is a relative thing.

"The good news is that compared to some sectors, like the tech sector, we’re OK," Casella said. "It’s a very tough market. Just the ad page counts show that. The good news is that because of the diversity of the Cahners portfolio, we certainly haven’t been impacted like some of the other sectors. ... Cahners itself is still very profitable."

Difficult challenges

Nonetheless, Casella acknowledges his job in running Cahners won’t be easy. The selling of properties, trimming of staff and sowing of uncertainty have taken their toll on morale, insiders say. "Some of the changes have been difficult, but I don’t think it’s any worse, and in some respects it’s better, than other companies," Casella said.

One of the ways he plans to restore morale is by aggressively marketing Cahners. He plans to be front and center, making sales calls at key customers. "We’ve been invisible with our customers," Casella said. "I’ve encouraged all of our presidents to go out with our salespeople."

Pointing to Cahners’ most powerful brand names—Variety, Publisher’s Weekly and EDN—he said: "We have a very strong story. We have to go out and tell that story, as opposed to let others tell it for us. ... We’re going to be aggressive out in the marketplace. I’m beginning to see some daylight. We’re growing pages and gaining share at the expense of some of our competitors."

He said he plans to focus on selling ad pages rather than selling properties. "I’m much more interested in building the portfolio than on changing the portfolio around," he said.

And what about the Internet? Casella said it remains a priority. The company’s e-inSite, and are considered leading sites in their industries. "The Internet is a great medium," Casella said. "It’s a great delivery mechanism. It’s certainly part of our story, but it’s not our whole story."

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