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Pettit discusses vision for ABM

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Clark Pettit, a former music industry and information technology executive, took over last month as president-CEO of American Business Media. He succeeded Gordon T. Hughes II, who had led the organization since 1994. Pettit and ABM Chairman Charles McCurdy, who is also CEO of Canon Communications, discussed the changing of the guard at the association.

BtoB: Clark, what appealed to you about the job? Pettit: I've done a lot of transitional roles inside media companies, inside service providers and inside large neutral third parties.

McCurdy: Big transformational roles.

Pettit: Yes, big transformational change. I've realized all of those models are actually fairly limited, because you're representing one small segment or portion with a built-in bias of the company you're working for. What attracted me to this role was the opportunity to provide thought leadership and dynamic thinking about how the b-to-b industry is changing—obviously in cooperation with and tapping into the members, and helping drive the transformation, but from a much broader perspective across the industry.

BtoB: Charlie, was there anything specific that appealed to you about Clark and what you thought he could bring to ABM?

McCurdy: Clark brought a cluster of things. First of all, an exceptionally well-suited experience in helping to drive the evolution of media through the digital impact in the music business and in video entertainment. There are a lot of parallels in what he went through in consumer-facing media to what is happening some years later now in full force to b-to-b media. Having been through that, he sees a lot of challenges that could be opportunities for us in b-to-b media. On top of that, the personality fit and cultural fit with ABM as an association and with the key players in the industry (was attractive). Clark is a very strong, enterprising and change-driven person whom I think we're all going to enjoy working with.

BtoB: The music industry is a paid-content industry, while the b-to-b media industry is largely an advertising-based industry. Are the parallels that strong in how digitization has or will impact these sectors?

Pettit: The first thing I'd say is that you're absolutely right, speaking with hindsight. I think when the music industry was going through this transition—identifying what was about to happen, that piracy was happening and behaviors were changing—it wasn't very obvious what was going to happen. It was clear that there were going to be strategic impacts, technical impacts, tactical impacts, fundamental changes to our business model and relationships with upstream and downstream clients and consumers. I think (in b-to-b media) we're going to have to manage the introduction of new services and capabilities, product lines and revenue streams at the same time that we manage the existing ones. So how do you make that whole transition happen, how do you handle an evolving strategy when it's being somewhat done to you and not always in your own control? And how do you manage not only the external market changes but the internal changes and skill sets, people structure, etc.? At the end of the day, there's a bit of a difference, but the overall transition is very similar to what b-to-b is going through.

BtoB: Clark, in every job you have a number of different constituencies to satisfy; but this job may take that to a new level. Some people have described it as having 200 bosses. How has your experience prepared you for something like this?

Pettit: I've thought about it extensively. I am aware of that. I've come from a career of driving transformational change—often being one of the voices promoting that we embrace the change. Any time you do that you're disrupting a lot of existing stakeholders who don't necessarily want to or are threatened by or don't understand or fundamentally disagree with what you're trying to do. And most of those positions have not been from a position of ultimate authority; it was just through sheer will of championing it. That's very much like this, having not just stakeholders but quite a few of them opposed to what you're trying to make happen. I think I've learned strongly the skill sets of going around and trying to identify what really is in the best interests of everyone and trying to drive that change. ABM is really going to be driving the change, and we really want to be enabling our members to see what tools are out there to help them in driving the change.

BtoB: What are your first steps going to be?

Pettit: I have to get to know everyone, set up the key priorities that we need to work on. But the first period of time—and we're talking about a relatively short period of time—is to very proactively be out with all of the key stakeholders—existing members, potential new members, other associations that we're closely aligned with—and start to put together a pretty broad framework about what the major issues are, what the opportunities are, the major decisions that need to be made and the major questions that need to be answered, and how to go about that in a kind of very constructive, collaborative, prioritized fashion. Then we need to try to pull it together into a framework that is one that can communicate what all those issues are and why we chose to start with some particular ones and what the process is to work through them.

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