After Stint in Education, What's Next for Cathie Black?

While It's Unlikely Ex-Hearst Exec Will Leap Back Into Big Media, at Least She Failed in a Foreign Field

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Whatever Cathie Black lines up next for work, you can bet it will make more sense than a media veteran atop a troubled education bureaucracy.

It's unlikely she can jump right back into the top post at a major traditional media company, but she has options that are perhaps surprisingly unaffected by her troubled past five months.

Cathie Black
Cathie Black

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg shocked the worlds of both media and education last November when he appointed Ms. Black, then chairman of Hearst Magazines, to be his new schools chancellor, dismissing her lack of related experience because she was a "superstar manager." After a series of gaffes that alienated her from parents, however, his request for her resignation on Thursday was far less surprising.

But happily for Ms. Black, successfully leading a school system is no more of a prerequisite for high-powered media work than high-powered media work was a qualification to run schools.

So she does not share the predicament of Jack Griffin, who endured a similar setback this year. Time Warner fired Mr. Griffin as CEO of Time Inc. in February after just five months in the job, saying his "leadership style and approach did not mesh" with the company. The incident certainly hurt him on his career's central terrain, but Ms. Black has failed a bit afield.

What she lacks, however, is a range of suitable openings in media's executive suites. There are CEO vacancies at NPR and, of course, Time Inc. But NPR is facing constant scrutiny amid a fierce fight to keep its government funding, a battle that contributed to the sudden exit of its last CEO. Finesse and tact appear high on the list of prerequisites for a successor. Ms. Black, on the other hand, failed to amuse parents in January when she joked that "some birth control" might help alleviate school crowding.

And Time Inc. would like to hire someone relatively fluent in digital media. While Hearst Magazines eventually made advances on that front, Ms. Black's resume is weighted heavily toward traditional media. Before Hearst Magazines, she held top posts at USA Today and the Newspaper Association of America.

But there are a variety of routes that could lead her toward operational roles or at least new board positions. She resigned from the boards of IBM and Coca-Cola after being named schools chancellor, but retains the connections and corporate skills that could land her similar new posts -- perhaps even at a large media company. Alternately, an association with private equity could help Ms. Black find a way toward new-media startups.

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