NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In a surprising move, David Carey has left Conde Nast, where he oversaw a group of titles including Wired and Golf Digest, to become the president of Hearst Magazines. He replaces Cathleen Black, who has been named chairman after serving as Hearst's president for 15 years, according to a statement released today.
Mr. Carey is considered one of Conde's most successful publishers and has long been regarded as a possible eventual successor to Conde CEO Chuck Townsend, especially after Vogue Group President Tom Florio announced he was leaving the company earlier this month. A Conde spokesperson said neither Mr. Carey nor Mr. Florio would be replaced. An insider at Conde said Carey's flight came as a surprise.
Hearst Exec VP Michael Clinton was considered the most likely candidate to replace Ms. Black, making Mr. Carey's appointment an unexpected appointment.
The move underscores the latest round-robin play in publishing -- Mr. Carey's departure is significant, as he has been lured by a competitor. Just two months ago, Carol Smith left Hachette Filipacchi, where she was senior VP-chief brand office for the Elle Group, and joined Conde as VP-publishing director in charge of Bon Appetit and Gourmet -- the latter was recently revived as an iPad app sans a print component. Conde executives actually considered moving her to Self when VP-Publisher Kim Kelleher left for Sports Illustrated. The company eventually moved Teen Vogue VP-Publisher Laura McEwan to the Self post.
A person familiar with the decision not to replace Mr. Carey or Mr. Florio said their midlevel executive positions aren't considered essential for the company's future. But as these positions are phased out over time, the drain on Conde's talent pool is adding weight to the growing question of Mr. Townsend's succession.
When asked if traces of a pattern of high-profile executive turnover may create unfavorable perceptions about the company, a Conde spokesperson said the company isn't concerned about that, especially not when dealing with Hearst. "As much as [Hearst] is our competitor, [it is] also our partner in some successful ventures," said Mistrella Murphy, senior executive director of corporate communications at Conde. "Having David there is positive."
A New York Observer profile of Mr. Carey in 2008 quoted New Yorker Editor David Reminick saying Mr. Carey represented a more toned-down Conde-type, suited to a new era. "Which is to say he's 20% less flamboyant and 20% more involved in trying to figure out the future at a time of transformation," Mr. Reminick told the Observer. Perhaps presciently, the Observer piece noted that Mr. Carey's personality and rise within the company suggested that the glossy publisher was becoming more like its rival: "Dare one venture that Conde Nast has become a little Hearst-y?"
Mr. Carey has helmed several of Conde's male-oriented titles, with varying degrees of success. He was publisher of the company's most recent -- and perhaps most expensive -- magazine launch, Portfolio, which was crafted as a business publication with a lifestyle bent. Portfolio shuttered in 2009 after just two years in print, with analysts pointing at a slagging economy that affected financial magazines especially hard. Earlier Mr. Carey served for seven years as VP-Publisher of The New Yorker, which saw increased circulation and returned to profitability under his leadership after many years in the red. He was also founding publisher of SmartMoney in 1992, which was then a joint venture between Hearst and The Wall Street Journal. (Hearst sold its interests to Dow Jones earlier this year.)