Three months after Penton Media CEO John French sent a memo to employees announcing he was stepping down to allow another top executive to “help bring new thoughts and new ideas to Penton,” the company last month named former Thomson Financial CEO Sharon Rowlands to be his successor. She officially took charge Nov. 1.
Rowlands had served as CEO of Thompson Financial since 2005. She said in an interview with Media Business that she is eager to work with the management of Penton, one of the nation's largest b-to-b media companies, as well as financial backers Wasserstein & Co. and Mid-Ocean Partners, to promote continued corporate growth. “I think Wasserstein and Mid-Ocean are looking for me to really help Penton over the next four to five years achieve its full potential,” she said.
Citing the industry emphasis on digitalization and globalization, Rowlands said, “We want to be No. 1. within the verticals we choose to operate in. ... The question I'm going to be asking all of our businesses is: How do we become the center of our customers' universe? And I'm going to be expecting them to know the answers to that.”
Rowlands said she regularly conducted evaluations of Thomson Financial managers to highlight areas requiring improvement and that she expected members of her executive team to follow suit. “That worked for me at Thomson Financial, and I'm certainly going to be bringing many of those processes to Penton,” she said.
Tyler Zachem, co-chairman of Penton, said Rowlands' hiring is part of the company's overall plan to assemble “a best-in-class management team to move the company forward.” He said Rowlands' experience in transforming business information assets into leading franchises fits well with the near- and long-term goals of the company.
While a change in CEOs often is followed by major shifts in personnel, Rowlands said Penton's strength is its editors and publishers and their understanding of the vertical markets they serve.
“I think it's highly unlikely we're going to feel the need to bring in a lot of new talent,” she said. “My sense is we have really great people and we're going to build a great team to work together.”
As COO, Rowlands led Thompson Financial during hard times between 2000 and 2003, and she said that experience prompted her to focus on understanding customers better in order to be positioned to take advantage when the markets Thomson Financial serves bounced back in 2004. The portfolio Rowlands oversaw at Thomson Financial included International Finance Review, which on her watch established a strong online presence covering international markets.
“What I did at Thomson Financial over the last eight years was take a very difficult business, organizational and cultural situation, and turn it into an effective company metric instead of a performance metric,” she said. “I wanted to go to a private company that had private equity backing, but I wanted it to have good private equity owners, so Penton really fit the bill for me.”
Rowlands said she chose Penton for its scale, position and potential. “It needs help to get to the right level,” she said. “I'd like to be the CEO that pulls it off.” M