When Jim Casella and his partners at private equity investment firm Austin Ventures pulled the trigger on their deal to acquire Asset International in late 2008, the global economy was on the brink of disaster.
“In 2008 and 2009, nobody at that time was buying because everyone was convinced the world had come to an end,” said Casella, now the chairman-CEO of Asset International. “It was a contrary bet, but when you looked at the odds, the odds were in our favor.”
Casella liked the deal for several reasons. He didn't think the global economic system would stay down forever; nor did he believe that the financial sector was permanently on its back.
He also liked the idea of building a new, innovative iteration of a b-to-b media company, one that was focused on a single industry, providing “deep domain knowledge.” He also wanted to create a company that relied on data for a significant portion of its revenue.
With subsequent acquisitions, such as Strategic Insight, a provider of analytics and advisory services for the mutual fund sector, Casella has built a company that generates about half its revenue from data and business intelligence. Clients such as Goldman Sachs Group and BlackRock Kelso Capital Corp. split their spending with Asset International between data and marketing, Casella said.
Perhaps it seems counterintuitive, but Casella has relied on his broad experience in b-to-b media—he previously held executive positions at Capital Cities/ABC, International Data Group, PennWell Corp. and Reed Business Information—to create an atmosphere of innovation at Asset International. He said he learned at Capital Cities/ABC and IDG to trust the decisions of his publishers.
“What [IDG Chairman] Pat [McGovern] really advised is: Let the person closest to the market make the decision,” Casella said. “The closer to the market you are, the better the chance the decision is going to be the right one.”
Another Asset International innovation that appears influenced by IDG is the building of a truly global media company. In addition to its presence in the U.S., Asset International has offices in London, Hong Kong and Melbourne, Australia.
This year, the company engaged in what might be termed retro innovation: It launched a print magazine, Philanthropy Management.