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Conde Nast Shake-Up Widens Race for Crown

With Top CEO Contender Fox Out, Wackermann, Florio Join the Shortlist

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- For a few hours last Monday morning, Condé Nast seemed like the rumpus room of yore: Ad Age and BusinessWeek were told of executives losing their jobs before the company could announce the news; magazines were reassigned en masse; and, despite longstanding rumors anticipating some of the moves, almost everyone was caught off-guard. Condé was once again the talk of Michael's.

But the changes actually signify the end of the rumpus-room days. The executives ousted might have found favor under former chiefs, such as the recently deceased Steve Florio, but the current regime could see no place for them. A person within the company also said the changes reflect a company that's become a magazine giant -- with Time Inc.'s sale of 18 titles in February 2007, Condé Nast became the country's largest seller of ad pages -- and is adapting to its growth.

Back in 2003, Mitch Fox was considered a contender for the CEO spot. Mary Berner, CEO of Condé sibling Fairchild Publications, looked like a lock to advance as well. But last Monday's moves by President-CEO Charles H. Townsend saw Mr. Fox depart. Ms. Berner, whose company was absorbed into Condé in 2005, was already long gone. Still standing: David Carey.

Group publishers stronger
Mr. Carey, who had run a business "group" with Portfolio as its only property, finally added oversight of Wired and Mr. Fox's golf magazines last week -- perhaps nine months after that rumor first made the rounds and was flatly denied by those concerned. And last week's realignment further increased the influence of group publishers -- perhaps at the expense of publishers at individual titles.

But now Mr. Carey has two new rivals in the climb toward the Condé CEO crown: Bill Wackermann, who had been VP-publisher of Glamour, was named a senior VP-publishing director with additional responsibility for Mr. Fox's bridal books, and Tom Florio, who was likewise bumped to senior VP-publishing director, added oversight of Teen Vogue to his duties running Vogue, Men's Vogue and Vogue Living. They join Chief Operating Officer John Bellando and Condé Nast Media Group President Richard Beckman as possible candidates to take over when Mr. Townsend calls it quits.

The rise of group publishers, which executives said reflected business needs more than deliberate succession planning, runs counter to Condé's old strategy of tying magazine publishers directly to the CEO. "The company's much bigger now," a Condé executive said. "It's not 10 titles now. The digital area offers enormous areas for collaboration -- that's not a zero-sum game. It's expensive to climb up the learning curves."

"If the fear was that you'd have weaker publishers, these are not super-rigid structures," he said. "If we do this right, a better way to look at it would be the wisdom of crowds."

Rewards
A magazine vet outside Condé suggested, on the other hand, that some changes were less about collaboration than rewarding high-performing individuals. "What they're struggling with is: How do you keep good people if there's no path beyond publisher?" the veteran said. "Some of these are a little bit forced."

Mr. Wackermann said Glamour and the bridal magazines didn't necessarily need to unite. "I don't see it as tremendously synergistic," he said. "They are different markets."

"Some of the changes that came down on Monday are just a reflection of Chuck's vision for the company," he added, "and I think further emphasize that it's performance that matters at Condé Nast."

In other moves, Drew Schutte, who had been publishing director of Wired Media, was named VP-publishing director of The New Yorker. He succeeds Lou Cona, who was named the No. 2 in Mr. Beckman's Condé Nast Media Group, taking a spot that had been occupied by Amy Churgin. That pair of reassignments brought new blood to both The New Yorker and the media group, where Mr. Beckman said the No. 2 slot would grow.

Handoff
"As we've expanded, I wanted to bring in a person I could hand the reins to," said Mr. Beckman, who estimated that the media group's contribution to company revenue had grown to 83% from 50% when he took charge in 2004. "Lou and I have a long personal and professional friendship and respect. I'm going to have all parts of the media group report into him, not just sales."

"I feel very happy to have Lou come onboard," he added, "which should enable me to expand what the media group does."

Condé also showed the door to Sandy Golinkin, who had been VP-publisher at Lucky, where ad-page growth has stalled in the past two years. Gina Sanders, who had been VP-publisher of Teen Vogue since its introduction, was named to handle Lucky. Mr. Florio plans to name new day-to-day leaders for Teen Vogue as well as Vogue itself.
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