New CEO Perlis faces challenges at Forbes Media

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B.C. Forbes, Bruce Forbes, Malcolm Forbes and Steve Forbes. For its first 93 years of existence, Forbes Media was run by a man named Forbes.

On Dec. 1, that will change. That's when Mike Perlis, who was most recently a general partner at SoftBank Capital, will take over as president-CEO of Forbes Media. Steve Forbes will relinquish the CEO title, but the grandson of magazine founder B.C. Forbes will remain chairman and editor in chief of the company.

Perlis expects to work closely with Steve and Tim Forbes, chairman of Forbes Digital. “Those guys are superconnected to this business,” Perlis said in an interview with Media Business. “Steve is incredibly well-connected and valued from an editorial standpoint with a lot of advertisers. He plays a very important role. Tim knows every nuance of how the company operates.”

Prior to his decade at SoftBank Capital, where he was involved with BeliefNet and other businesses, Perlis was president-CEO of Ziff-Davis Publishing and president of Playboy Publishing Group. Industry observers applauded his hiring by Forbes Media.

“He'll bring with him a very educated sense of the direction of the media business,” said John Wickersham, partner at Atwood Advisors, noting Perlis' decade of venture capital experience.

“I think he has the right kind of background for what they are looking for,” said Reed Phillips, managing partner of DeSilva & Phillips. “He combines a strong digital background with a strong print media background.”

Perlis takes over the iconic company in a challenging time not only for Forbes but also for its chief competitors, Bloomberg Businessweek and Fortune. Each of these publications lost about two-thirds of its ad pages between 2000 and 2009. For the first three quarters of this year, all three publications lost ad pages compared with the same period last year: Bloomberg Businessweek (-4.7%), Forbes (-9.6%), and Fortune (-9.1%).

As print pages have dwindled, has embraced online innovation. Former CEO Jim Spanfeller revamped the site to aggregate business news. Now, Lewis DVorkin, chief product officer at Forbes Media, is again modifying the editorial approach of and Forbes by wading into social media and through the innovative AdVoices program, which allows advertisers to purchase blog posts.

Between October 2009 and October 2010, saw its traffic dwindle from 10.6 million to 8.4 million unique monthly visitors, according to—although the site's traffic has bounced back from a low of 8.1 million in February 2010.

In the same time frame, dropped from 6.1 million to 4.2 million unique monthly visitors, and, which serves as Fortune's online presence, dropped from 12.3 million unique monthly visitors to 8.1 million, according to

“This is definitely one of the most competitive segments of media,” Wickersham said. “He [Perlis] has a substantial challenge ahead of him.”

Perlis expressed confidence that the changes in how Internet users consume and share information favor strong brands such as Forbes. “I believe that brands are going to play a more important role as social media plays a more prominent role,” he said. “Brands in that social environment are really important.”

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