Mark H. Willes, who will be leaving General Mills after a 15-year career at the cereal marketer, has no past publishing experience. But he has a reputation as a cost cutter with an eye for gauging consumer demand. During his years at General Mills, he oversaw a major restructuring while revenues doubled to $8 billion.
In his opening news conference last week, he said: "When you come from the kinds of businesses that I have been involved in, you really start from the consumer end and say, `What is it that people are sufficiently interested in that they will pay for on a regular basis?' I think it starts to bring some discipline to the strategic thinking that has to be involved."
That kind of talk inspired a new round of speculation that New York Newsday, after a decade of losses, is now in an even more precarious position. The company has spent an estimated $100 million on the paper, and it continues to bleed red ink while circulation declines. (See newspaper circulation story on Page 33.) Insiders also read his statements as a cautious approach to new media and therefore don't expect any lavish, blockbuster deals.
Last week, Mr. Willes carefully avoided talk of any specific changes. He praised the reputation of the company's newspapers, including Newsday, the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and Hartford Courant; consumer magazines such as Field & Stream, Popular Science and Golf; and textbook and legal publishers.
Last year, Times Mirror derived about 60% of its $3.4 billion in annual revenue from newspapers. Net income dropped from $317.2 million to $173.1 million.
Perhaps equally unsettling is that Times Mirror's past diversification efforts into non-newspaper ventures were not ready to offset the newspaper group's problems. For instance, the consumer media group, which counts on magazines for more than 95% of its revenue of $289.9 million, lost $4.9 million last year, up from a loss of $3.8 million the previous year on revenue of $271.2 million. The magazines themselves were said to be profitable but the profit was eaten up by investments in new media.
Still, the news that Mr. Willes would be arriving on the scene to replace Robert Erburu, 64, as chairman-president-CEO caused an immediate jump in the price of TM stock last week, as Wall Street seems to relish the thought of a fiscally responsible outsider at the helm. Mr. Willes adds the title of chairman on Jan. 1, 1996.
BORN: July 16, 1941, Salt Lake City.
EDUCATION: B.A., Columbia College, New York; Ph.D., Columbia Graduate School of Business, 1967.
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Vice chairman, General Mills, 1992-95, president-chief operating officer, 1985-92, exec VP, 1980-85; Federal Reserve Bank posts, 1969-80.
PERSONAL: Married to Fayone; five grown children. Resides in Minneapolis.