Kent 'Dr. Evil' Brownridge Steps Down After 31 Years

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NEW YORK ( -- Kent Brownridge, the unusually outspoken No. 2 at Wenner Media and an institution in magazine publishing, is leaving his post as general manager in order to retire, he said today.
Kent Brownridge has spent 31 years as general manager of the Wenner publishing empire.

But insiders at Wenner said the relationship between Mr. Brownridge and Chairman-President Jann Wenner had clearly gone south in the past few months.

Mr. Brownridge denied that, adding that Mr. Wenner and his wife, Jane Wenner, who own the company together, have treated him very well. “Whoever does this job in the future, I commend this prescription to them: Just do your absolute best and you will be rewarded,” he said.

Possible successor
Although no successor has been named, the odds-on favorite is Gary Armstrong, chief marketing officer.

Mr. Brownridge, 65, will walk out of Wenner’s front door for the last time this January, 31 years after joining what was once called Straight Arrow Publishers and 23 years after becoming general manager.

“The whole 31 years plus the most intensive 23-year part was done without anything in writing,” he said. “It was all on trust. There was never a contract negotiation, never a dispute.”

Many other Wenner employees, contracts or no, have chafed under Mr. Wenner and were forced

to leave abruptly. Mr. Brownridge was seen by many as the practical businessman at Wenner’s upper reaches, while Mr. Wenner became known for more eccentric behavior like personally inspecting employees’ workspaces for orderliness.

“[Kent] was unapologetically a business person,” said Janice Min, editor in chief of Wenner’s Us Weekly. “It came down to what was going to sell more.”

Speaking his mind
Mr. Brownridge has also earned a reputation for speaking his mind to the point of being impolitic. He wound up apologizing after he referred to the breakup of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston as “our tsunami,” meaning it was the biggest news story of the year for celebrity magazines.

Simon Dumenco, AdAge’s “Media Guy” columnist, affectionately nicknamed him “Dr. Evil” earlier this year. This summer, Mr. Brownridge joked to Advertising Age that he probably had three friends left in the entire industry -- if that.

But this morning he said he had already received three offers to serve as a strategic adviser to other magazines. “I have a few more friends than I thought, it turns out,” he said.

Greatest accomplishment
The company’s greatest accomplishment during Mr. Brownridge’s tenure was the resuscitation of Us Weekly. The title was on life support before Bonnie Fuller was brought in as editor and helped transform it into a bona fide challenger to Time Inc.’s People and an inspiration for what seem like countless celebrity-weekly copycats.

In addition to mastering much of the arcana surrounding magazine circulation, distribution and manufacturing, Mr. Brownridge has worked on political campaigns for the likes of Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale and George McGovern. He met Mr. Wenner when both were working on the 1974 California gubernatorial campaign of William Madison Roth.

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