Maria Rodale Takes on Top Management Role at Family Company

Current CEO Steven Pleshette Murphy Doesn't Renew Contract

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The CEO's office at Rodale, publisher of magazines including Men's Health and books such as "The South Beach Diet," will revert to family control on Sept. 1, when Maria Rodale will succeed outgoing CEO Steven Pleshette Murphy, the company said today. Ms. Rodale is the 47-year-old granddaughter of the company's founder and the daughter of prior chairmen Robert and Ardath Rodale.

Maria Rodale
Maria Rodale
The news should not come as a surprise to anyone who knows the company, a former executive there said, especially given the economic environment.

The change at the top comes at an opportune time, given the difficult recession battering Rodale, just as it is everyone else. The company most recently reported that first-quarter revenue came in 23% below the first quarter of 2008. Mr. Murphy's contract, which was up for renewal, undoubtedly represented a significant cost for the business.

The new CEO, for her part, has worked in various parts of the company since 1987 and climbing the corporate ladder on her way. She succeeded her mother, Ardath, as chairman two years ago.

She may have a different management style than her predecessor. "He's the guy who, at the end of the day, understands how to move businesspeople around," a former executive said. "I'm not sure that's Maria's strength."

"It's going to be interesting," he added. "It's also going to probably create a lot of people knocking on the door looking to see what Maria wants to do with the company." Rodale has occasionally looked for new partners or equity investors, although nothing has come of those explorations.

The company lists several other family members in executive roles: Heather Rodale, board member and VP for leadership development; Heidi Rodale, board member and development editor for Rodale Books; and Anthony Rodale, a board member.

Rodale magazines' ad pages have suffered along with the rest of the industry this year -- sometimes more so. From January through August, ad-page declines reached 27% at Prevention and Bicycling, 23% at Men's Health, 20% at Runner's World and 15% at Women's Health, according to the Media Industry Newsletter. Monthlies across the industry, by comparison, saw ad pages fall 22% in the period.

The titles' paid circulation has offered a mostly happier story, at least in the most recent report covering the second half of 2008. Prevention reported paid and verified circulation averaging 3.3 million, a 1.3% slip, for example, but Bicycling posted circulation of 431,894, for a 3.6% gain, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Men's Health reported 1.9 million, up 3% despite a 6% decline in newsstand sales. Runner's World reported 664,647, a 3.6% gain. And Women's Health reported average paid and verified circulation of 1.2 million, for example, up 32%.

But the company has also been making concerted efforts to build revenue streams leveraging its magazines and books in new ways. In June it introduced a Men's Health iPhone app that lets users buy additional workout instructions. The website for Runner's World is selling personalized training support at $19.95 a month. Most recently, Maria Rodale has taken on the role of editor in chief of the company's new site, Rodale.com, which is meant to reach health-conscious consumers.

"After a wonderful decade at Rodale, I have decided not to renew my contract and to take time off to pursue my own creative interests," Mr. Murphy said in a statement. "I have worked closely with Maria on a daily basis, and she is a remarkably creative leader and colleague. Thanks to the many talented people on the Rodale team, during my tenure we have transformed the company, achieved tremendous success and positioned it for continued growth."

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