Hughes looks back on ABM tenure

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Gordon T. Hughes II, president-CEO of American Business Media, will step down this summer from the helm of the organization he has led since 1994. His tenure has coincided with a period of great transformation in the b-to-b information sector, as well as the association itself. It was on his watch that the association changed its name from American Business Press to American Business Media in 2000. He also helped spearhead the development of ABM's new strategic plan, which emphasizes its central place among associations reaching business media companies and b-to-b marketers. Hughes is leaving the ABM to join a company that will produce Broadway plays. Media Business: What attracted you to this job back in 1994? Hughes: I had left broadcasting when it was going through a very tough time. It's not dissimilar from the time that my current industry is going through right now. There were outside investors taking over broadcast companies. In my particular case it was Loews Corp. that had bought CBS. It had become a very different company for me personally, not a place where I was happy, and so I tossed my hat into the ring. A headhunter found this job for me. The job and this whole industry were intriguing to me. I had always depended on it. In broadcasting, I read Multichannel News, or Broadcasting & Cable or Variety. It also had a lot of appeal because I found the industry to be a much more collegial environment than the broadcasting industry was at that point. MB: What strengths do you think you brought to the organization? Hughes: They wanted to hire someone who had nothing to do with magazines, and that turned out to be me. It could have been a number of other people, but it turned out to be me. What I brought was a point of view that was untethered to any allegiance to print. I was not a print guy. I started in on the Internet practically the day I walked in. We launched a Web site in 1994. I was unencumbered by tradition. I think that helped me in transforming the association, which had been kind of a social club, to a meaningful, I hope, association that really speaks to the issues of the day and provides answers and leadership. MB: What do you consider your successes at ABM? Hughes: I really hope that I've left a legacy of change here, within the association itself and also within the industry. I've always embraced change. I've always had a fairly good gut instinct about what was going to work. Right now, I'd put my bet down on data, put my bet down on mobile and I'd put my bet down on video. I think I've been a supporter of editorial. We expanded the Neal Awards and [added] the Timothy White Award [for editorial integrity]. We started the CEBA Awards. I'm proud of creating the Gertrude R. Crain Award for women in b-to-b. I'm proud that as I leave, the current chairperson is a woman. I'm proud of bringing in younger people for board seats and key committee seats. We're bringing in the next generation. MB: What's your biggest disappointment? Hughes: My biggest frustration was the inability or the difficulty in ridding us of the halo effect of being a print association. We really are a fully integrated b-to-b association. I'm not convinced that we've passed the barrier, though. There's still a perception that ABM is a print association, even though we've changed the name.
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