PEOPLE;PLAYER OF THE WEEK;KERR'S MEREDITH GROWTH PLAN RELIES ON CORE TITLES;NEW CEO PUTS EMPHASIS ON MAGAZINE GROUP AND ACQUISITION OF TV STATIONS

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When William Kerr takes over as Meredith Corp. CEO Jan. 1, his biggest challenge will be to maintain momentum from the turnaround he helped engineer over the past few years.

The 55-year-old Rhodes scholar has been president-chief operating officer and is heir apparent to Jack Rehm, 64, who remains chairman until December 1997.

Mr. Kerr's promotion came as Meredith posted the best operating performance in its 94 years. Net profit for fiscal '96, ended June 30, was $53.9 million, after a '95 loss of $6.3 million attributed to changes in accounting principles. Sales were up 4.5% to $867.1 million.

ROLE IN SUCCESS STORY

Morgan Stanley & Co. media analyst Douglas Arthur said Meredith is "one of the most successful stories not only in publishing but in all of media, and Bill Kerr played a role in that."

At the same time, Mr. Arthur noted the company is "kind of at a crossroads. How do they bring it to the next level?"

Mr. Kerr's growth strategy is sharply focused on the core properties. He wants to continue to boost the home- and family-oriented magazine group, while using Meredith's strong cash position to buy more broadcast TV stations.

`BULLISH ON PUBLISHING'

"I'm very bullish on publishing," Mr. Kerr said. "I think we'll have above average growth as far into the future as I can see."

His goal is to "launch at least one new title a year" and make greater use of the company's 60 million-name database for custom publishing and target marketing for advertisers.

One new launch on the drawing board is Family Money, springing from flagship Better Homes & Gardens next summer with an initial rate base of 250,000. To give added muscle to the launch, Meredith has already forged a marketing alliance with Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.

Met Life will pay a fee to send copies of the magazine to its new life-insurance policyholders and let Meredith market subscriptions to some existing policyholders.

TV DEALS ANTICIPATED

The fastest-growing part of the company is its TV operations. Last year, TV stations contributed 43% of Meredith's profit, and Mr. Kerr said he hopes to add to the seven existing broadcast outlets.

Mr. Kerr graduated from University of Washington in 1963 and went on to earn both a master's degree and an MBA from Harvard before working as a management consultant for both Dillon Read & Co. (1969-73) and McKinsey & Co. 1973-79). He joined Meredith in September 1991 as president of its magazine group, from the same post at The New York Times Co.

In the two years since rising to president of the parent company, he has helped Meredith retreat from some less-profitable publishing ventures. Earlier this year, for example, he sold Meredith's book clubs to Time Inc.'s Book-of-the-Month Club.

He has also overseen some unusual marketing arrangements, forming an alliance with Reader's Digest Association to sell branded books, licensing Wal-Mart Stores to operate Better Homes Garden Centers and selling Better Homes-branded cards through Hallmark Cards.

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