Mr. Nisenholtz, 45, has a resume that contains a list of firsts. In 1979, as a research scientist in the alternative media center at New York University, he worked on a teletext project, testing ways to beam combinations of text and graphics onto TV screens in 125 Washington-area sample households. This was one of the earliest attempts to determine how interactive media could change communications. "This was the forerunner of what we're seeing is possible on a TV today," says Red Burns, who heads the Interactive Telecommunica-tions Program at NYU.
Before leaving NYU in 1983 to launch another first -- the interactive marketing unit at Ogilvy & Mather -- Mr. Nisenholtz helped Ms. Burns establish the school's program, which has turned out many creative directors for interactive ad agencies and content companies. Ogilvy's interactive group was considered the first such unit at a major U.S. agency. During his 11-year tenure at Ogilvy, Mr. Nisenholtz helped advertisers such as IBM Corp. and American Express make early forays into Internet marketing.
In 1995, the New York Times Co. tapped him to create the newspaper's Web-based version, which was launched in January 1996. Now he oversees several New York Times Co. properties, including The Boston Globe's Boston.com, GolfDigest.com and start-up brand NYToday.com, under the New York Times Digital unit that has filed to go public.
In his current role, Mr. Nisenholtz faces a challenge that would mark another first: running a profitable Internet company built on a combination of print and original content brands.
According to its IPO filing, the company plans to diversify its banner-heavy ad programs to include more direct marketing and other advertising functions. It will also wrap more community elements into the site's services, largely through the newly acquired Abuzz, a chat-oriented Web site. With major advertisers already on board, such as Compaq Computer Corp., IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Ford Motor Co., and $13.75 million in ad revenues through September, Mr. Nisenholtz is running a ship that should be able to avoid icebergs like those blocking many other newspaper Internet initiatives.
"Within the newspaper world, he's held in high regard," says Dan O'Brian, an analyst for Forrester Research, who notes that The New York Times' strategy of building a national brand before launching regional sub-brands was a smart way to position the property.
"I remember hearing [Mr. Nisenholtz] at a Harvard conference in 1995," says Mr. O'Brian. "I took notes and reviewed them recently. He was right on about a lot of things. He's definitely entitled to the `visionary' status."