PATRICK VETERANS CHARTING NEW COURSE

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The fish that swallowed a whale, Eller Outdoor Advertising, is in the process of digesting former outdoor giant Patrick Media Group and transforming into the new Eller Media Co.

With financing from Hellman & Friedman Capital Partners, Phoenix-based Eller in July shelled out $500 million for Patrick, among the three largest outdoor companies nationally.

After briefly working together, former Patrick CEO Stephen McNeely-who was to keep his post-and Eller Outdoor President Karl Eller found they didn't agree on business strategies, and Mr. McNeely departed. Mr. Eller said he will take the position of CEO permanently.

The new Eller is shifting its headquarters to Phoenix (where Eller Outdoor was based) from Patrick's Chicago site by January 1996 and dividing Patrick's central focus into six regional divisions. Eller will have about 1,000 employees, including Eller's original 150.

"There are 100 ways to skin a cat, and 80 of them will work," Mr. McNeely said, adding that there was "some disagreement" between him and Mr. Eller on how to proceed.

Joining Mr. McNeely in his departure were Patrick Chief Financial Officer Stephen Hunt and Bill Wardell, senior VP-sales and marketing.

"I don't think [Eller's] plan was what we had in mind. We wanted to build business diversity from the top down as opposed to the bottom up," Mr. Wardell said, referring to the centralized vs. divisional approach.

The trio of former Patrick executives are now exploring options to begin a new business before the end of the year and selling themselves on the strength of their history at Patrick.

"We took Patrick from a laughingstock to a leader," Mr. McNeely said. The company grew 30% during the past several years, twice the rate of the industry's growth, Mr. Hunt noted.

Patrick's annual revenue hit an estimated $225 million last year, about 10 times as much as Eller's.

"Money is not a problem," Mr. McNeely said and noted that the trio are working with a number of investment bankers.

Though their preference is to remain in the outdoor business, "pricing [to acquire outdoor companies] is on the high side," he said. Mr. McNeely mentioned a number of possibilities and said, "we haven't ruled out the option of going outside of out-of-home, such as cable or radio."

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