Mr. Conlin, 43, had been as president-CEO of tech publisher IDG until September 2002. He replaces Tom Rogers, who left his position as chairman-CEO in April after clashing with the board over strategic direction.
Dean Nelson named chairman
Primedia, publisher of titles such as
In an interview shortly after Mr. Conlin arrived at his new corporate address, both he and Mr. Nelson sought to downplay Primedia's role as an asset seller.
Mr. Conlin characterized his strategy as to "look beyond what has been the focus of this company, of these last months, on divestitures" and ramping up results in Primedia magazine niches like automotive, outdoor and action sports, and consumer guides.
'New York Magazine'
Such comments alone might not convince onlookers, who have witnessed a steady stream of divestitures from Primedia in recent months, as well as denials properties were for sale right up until they went on the block. The company is currently fielding offers for New York Magazine. Since early 2002 it has sold the American Baby Group, Seventeen, Modern Bride and tried but failed to sell its gun-related magazines. Last month it sold the trade title Cable World.
Mr. Nelson said he hoped that Mr. Conlin's appointment meant the notion Primedia would "take big parts [of the portfolio] and sell it will die down." Concerning two particular sectors eyed by market observers, Mr. Nelson said Primedia "was not in active discussions with anyone to sell our entire [business-to-business magazines] unit," and he made a similar statement regarding Soap Opera Digest and Soap Opera Weekly.
Mr. Conlin was most recently working in an advisory capacity with private equity players Providence Equity Partners. He left IDG in September 2002 after having been there for the dot-com boom and bust. Prior to that, Mr. Conlin's experience includes stints as chief assignment editor in the early days of CNN, business reporter for The New York Times and a managerial role within the Times' consumer magazine group.
Mr. Conlin's appointment concludes a six-month search for the successor to Mr. Rogers. Mr. Nelson said the company first had conversations with Mr. Conlin early on in the process. He said, "Kelly was the right person. Without any ambiguity, he was the only person who got an offer" to run Primedia.
An insider said the company had talked to about 20 people about the CEO position. Among them, according to people with knowledge of the process, were former Ziff Davis Chairman Jim Dunning and former Time Inc. International head Michael Pepe. Mr. Dunning did not return a call, and Mr. Pepe couldn't be reached. A Primedia spokesman declined to comment on other candidates for the job.
Mr. Conlin's title suggests that KKR is determined to keep a strong hand in directing the company's strategy. Mr. Rogers clashed with the board over strategic direction and asset sales.
But at Mr. Conlin's previous job at IDG, he also worked with a hands-on chairman, Pat McGovern. Mr. Conlin's arrival means the exit of 14-year Primedia veteran Charles McCurdy, who had been its interim CEO after Mr. Rogers exited.
Mr. Conlin begins in his new position next week.