CMP makes big change in top management ranks

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Steve Weitzner started at CMP Media in 1984, coming to the company from Hearst Business Communications. In the interim, he has been an editor, publisher, group publisher and COO at the company.

Now, he's the CEO.

CMP, which is owned by London-based United Business Media, announced Sept. 26 that former CEO Gary Marshall "is leaving the company to pursue other interests."

Weitzner is described by industry insiders as a man who, after spending two decades moving up the ladder at CMP, understands the company's customers.

"His reputation is that he's a very efficient manager who know his markets very well," said Roland DeSilva, managing partner at media investment bank DeSilva & Phillips.

"Gary guided CMP through difficult times over the last five years," Richard Mead, managing director at The Jordan, Edmiston Group, said of Marshall. "United [Business Media] is fortunate to have Steve in place to continue the resurgence of CMP under his leadership."

Speculation about the rationale for the move centered on David Levin, who took over as CEO of UBM on April 15 of this year. "My guess is that it's as simple as the new CEO wanting to have someone in that role that he was comfortable working with," said one investment banker who requested anonymity. "I can't imagine it's performance-related."

CMP insiders speculated that the move was made in an effort to spur growth at the unit, which has sputtered in delivering top-line improvement. Marshall, who has a financial background, excelled in the downturn at cutting costs and streamlining CMP.

In addition to previous cuts, the unit achieved $7 million in new cost savings in the first half of this year, according to UBM's interim results report for the period. But some questioned Marshall's ability to grow the company, saying the former CEO focused on cost-cutting, while his lieutenants were making the strategic decisions. "We can't continue to cut our way out; we have to grow," one insider said.

In his statement about the management change, Levin focused on growth. "Steve [Weitzner] has the skills, knowledge and passion to make the business increasingly customer-focused, to lead the online migration of the business and to drive top-line growth," he said.

While UBM as a whole boosted its revenue by 19.7% in the first half of this year compared with the first half of 2004, CMP's revenue dipped by 6.1%. Additionally, CMP's adjusted group operating profit dropped 9.8% in that period.

Part of the challenge for CMP is developing growth at its print publications. In the first quarter of this year, for instance, not a single one of CMP's major titles-which include such stalwarts as InformationWeek and EE Times-delivered growth in ad pages compared with the first quarter of 2004. The best performers were Network Magazine, which posted an ad page decline of 5.8%, and CRN, which had an ad page decline of 5.9%.

UBM bought CMP in 1999, as the tech bubble was still expanding, for $920 million. In recent months, CMP has made a number of acquisitions, buying small but growing online media operations such as Light Reading.

In his statement, Weitzner emphasized these moves and CMP's online growth. "This growth will be fueled by our talented employees, who continue to accelerate change and build momentum with innovative products like `The News Show,' the Lead Nurture Program and as well as value-added acquisitions like Light Reading."

Robert Crosland, managing director at AdMedia Partners, said: "They [CMP] have had several strategic acquisitions recently. It kind of makes you wonder who's been pulling the strings. Only an insider can read the tea leaves." 

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