Berner readies a new Fairchild for competition

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Mary G. Berner has instituted some pretty monumental changes at 108-year-old Fairchild Publications -- such as a new cafeteria.

That may not sound like much, but to the publisher's employees, the cafeteria signified that new management was here to stay, and were committed to the publishing game.

"I wanted to be very clear to the employees that they had been bought by a publishing company," said Ms. Berner, 40, who was named president-CEO of the Advance Publications unit Nov. 1, shortly after her boss, Conde Nast Publications Chairman S.I. Newhouse Jr., bought the fashion and retail trade publisher for $650 million. "We are in the business of publishing, not amusement parks," she said, referring to Fairchild's previous owner, Walt Disney Co.

OWNERSHIP CHANGES

Fairchild employees had been through two sales within five years. When ABC was sold to Walt Disney Co. in 1995, Fairchild came along as part of the deal. But rumors persisted during its ownership by the Mickey Mouse empire that the publishing unit would be sold. Ms. Berner wants employees to believe that they are now in the hands of management committed to growth.

"Mary came in like a typhoon," said Patrick McCarthy, chairman and editorial director. "She has so many ideas, she's so energetic, so excited about being here. . . . When a company is as old as Fairchild, things are sometimes accepted because it's always been that way. So to have fresh eyes come in and look things over and say, `Why do it this way? Why not revamp that? Why don't we change?' is a good thing. Mary has no preconceptions, no icons, no idols about Fairchild. Everything is up for reinvention."

In a mere four and a half months, Ms. Berner has shifted Fairchild's gears to ready it for steady growth. She reorganized Fairchild into three divisions: the trade division, whose flagship is Women's Wear Daily; the consumer magazine division, housing Jane, W and now Details, the former Conde Nast men's magazine being remade as a men's fashion title at Fairchild; and the Internet division, which plans to encompass an e-commerce operation.

AIMING AT PROFITABILITY

"Soon after I got here, I said, `Let's not worry about making money for next year. Let's get the right plans in place and then make a lot of money in the third year,' " Ms. Berner said.

Future plans to drive growth, besides the Internet and e-commerce properties, include expanding WWD internationally to markets such as Italy, as well as bringing out a West Coast edition.

"We think this should be a worldwide brand," Ms. Berner said.

She plans to launch or acquire titles for both the consumer and trade divisions, as long as they fit in with the areas in which Fairchild excels: fashion and retail. To complement any e-commerce activity, she's encouraging the trade titles to think of ways the magazines can bring buyers and sellers together, either at trade shows or executive conferences.

Ms. Berner's plans also, first and foremost, involved assembling her team. Every top post that Ms. Berner has held -- as VP-publisher of Glamour and senior VP-publisher of TV Guide -- has been intricately linked to a core team of executives who help her make decisions.

"Ultimately, every decision is mine and the responsibility is mine. But if I'm making the right decision, it's come out of the collaboration; and it's very clear to everyone that this is the direction we should go in," Ms. Berner explained.

2 APPOINTMENTS DUE SOON

Her core team at Fairchild currently numbers 10, with two more expected to be named in upcoming weeks -- a director of human resources and a head for the newly formed Internet division. The group is a near-even mix of Fairchild veterans and new faces

Mr. McCarthy is truly Ms. Berner's counterpart at the company.

"We absolutely complement each other's skill set," Ms. Berner said. "I don't want to have anything to do with editorial and he doesn't want to have anything to do with the business side."

An example of her collaborative decision-making process involved Details. When the idea to transfer the monthly to Fairchild was first floated by James Truman, editorial director at Conde Nast, Ms. Berner told Mr. McCarthy to go off and put together some editorial ideas about whether they should take on the title. She would look at the business side perspective, and only then would they compare thoughts and see if they were of one mind. "We were completely in sync. Independently, we had come up with an almost identical plan for how Details would fit into Fairchild and why we should do it," Ms. Berner said.

Other longtime Fairchild executives who now counsel Ms. Berner include Stephanie George, named to the new position of president, WWD Worldwide Group; Lisa Phillips, senior VP-operations, WWD/Consumer manager; Paul White, VP-senior business manager; and John Condon, chief financial officer.

NEW FACES

New Fairchild faces include Eva Dillon, formerly of Glamour, now publisher of Jane; Beth Tighe, also from Glamour, now executive marketing director; Lee Jones, former publisher of Entrepreneur, now exec VP-trade division; Susan Blank, former publisher of Mirabella, now publisher of W; and David Orlin, senior VP-operations, formerly of Conde Nast.

Ms. Berner also has alerted the media mergers and acquisitions world that she would be willing to shop for some new properties that fit in with Fairchild's retail and fashion sensibilities. Properties that don't fit, such as a gift market trade show, will be sold off.

The company will even begin running a trade campaign in its own titles with a tagline that reflects Ms. Berner's enthusiasm for her new job: "Fairchild first."

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