Three of six members of Ziff-Davis' executive committee are leaving the computer media company, prompting a management shuffle.
Departing are Ronni Sonnenberg, president, U.S. Publications; Jeffrey Ballowe, president, Interactive Media & Development Group; and J.B. Holston III, president, International Media Group.
Chairman-CEO Eric Hippeau said the executives are leaving for personal reasons, noting their departures come at a time when the Softbank Corp.-owned company is enjoying record performance.
"This is not a company that depends on a single individual, including myself," said Mr. Hippeau, 45.
Claude Sheer, 47, was promoted to president, U.S. Publications, from president, Business Media Group. Terri Holbrooke, 41, was promoted to president of a new Brand & Market Group, from senior VP-marketing. Those promotions are effective immediately.
Ms. Sonnenberg and Mr. Ballowe, both 41, are a couple; they will retire at yearend.
Mr. Holston, 39, exits the end of July to head an educational technology startup. Ms. Sonnenberg will run international on an interim basis.
BRIGGS TO CONSULT
The announced departures follow the June resignation of J. Scott Briggs, president of the Consumer Media Group. Mr. Briggs, who spent 22 years at the company, will become an industry consultant, devoting one-third of his time to Ziff-Davis. Ziff-Davis said the departures are coincidental and not indicative of any turmoil.
"People will be very hardpressed to find any evidence at all of disarray," Ms. Holbrooke said. "We have been so truthful with ourselves and our employees that there's nothing to find ... It's going to feel very like an organized transition, not a big jolt."
Ms. Holbrooke said Ziff-Davis "did a little war gaming" to anticipate how rivals would spin the story, attempting to portray a company in crisis or one facing trouble with its ambitious Web media and TV ventures.
But Ziff-Davis, the top computer magazine publisher, says revenues and market share are growing in print and on the Web, and that it's on track to launch the ZDTV cable channel next year.
"The company is having its best year in history," Mr. Hippeau said.
Ziff-Davis watchers were little surprised by the departures. Ms. Sonnenberg, who started as a secretary in 1978, "always said she wanted to do something different after she was 40," said one observer, adding Ms. Sonnenberg and Mr. Ballowe were "a package deal."
The management changes put the spotlight on two recent recruits from outside tech publishing: Ms. Holbrooke and Lawrence Burstein, promoted in June to president, Consumer Media Group.
Ms. Holbrooke, a respected former marketing executive at Novell, joined Ziff-Davis last October to oversee corporate marketing. She now adds responsibility for corporate accounts sales and two Ziff-Davis market research companies.
Mr. Burstein, 44, former publishing director of Esquire and publisher of The New Yorker, Self and Elle, joined in June 1996 as senior VP charged with recruiting non-tech advertisers.
Mr. Sheer, who joined Ziff-Davis in 1980 and has been running the business tech titles, was the logical successor to Ms. Sonnenberg.
Ziff-Davis now will be run by a revamped executive committee, dubbed the Wednesday Group, including executives from print, Web, TV and international. It will consist of Messrs. Hippeau and Sheer; Dan Rosensweig, president, ZDNet; heads of ZDTV and international, when they are named; and two holdover members, Ms. Holbrooke and Timothy O'Brien, chief financial officer.
Copyright July 1997, Crain Communications Inc.