Mary Berner Exits Reader's Digest Association

Four-Year Run Saw Company Modernize, Reorganize, Struggle With Debt and Chapter 11

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Mary Berner Reader's Digest
Mary Berner Reader's Digest

Reader's Digest President-CEO Mary Berner has left the company after four years in the post, a run that saw the company file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009 and emerge in 2010, move its iconic headquarters from Pleasantville, N.Y., accept a 2009 National Magazine Award for General Excellence for its flagship title, and reorganize around affinities such as food, health and home, all the better, it hoped, to package its assets better for advertisers.

Ms. Berner was a high-profile and intense magazine executive in 2006 when she left Fairchild Publications, where she had been president-CEO since 1999, in a decision largely attributed to Fairchild's recent demotion from a sibling of Conde Nast to a subordinate unit. Later that year she began working with private equity firm Ripplewood Holdings, which made a run at taking Reader's Digest Association private in a $2.4 billion deal and installed her at its helm.

She arrived determined to update and invigorate the company, quickly poaching other high-power magazine executives from Conde Nast, but also had to cope with payments on the roughly $2 billion in debt as the overall economy soured.

In an interview with Ad Age this morning, Ms. Berner said she had completed the work she wanted to do and that the new board last week may have a different vision than she does going forward. "My job is done," she said. "I successfully led the company through a restructuring. In the past year our stock price has almost doubled. With the new board we have terrific strategy in place. From my perspective our visions are likely to diverge. I think it's time for change.

She will be succeeded as president-CEO by Tom Williams, who had been senior VP and chief financial officer.

"I've worked very closely with Tom for the past two years," Ms. Berner added, "and I leave the company knowing that it is in truly capable hands."

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