New G&J CEO Named Only After Talks Fail to Reach Agreement

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NEW YORK ( -- Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing named a new U.S. CEO yesterday, but only after its German parent company engaged in serious discussions with Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.'s French parent company over creating a 50-50 partnership in America, said executives familiar with the situation.

Those discussions were abandoned earlier

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Russell Denson Is Formerly of Reiman Media and Weider Publications
this month, two executives said.

One friction point was the relative inequity of each company's U.S. operations. Hachette last year did around $700 million in revenue; G&J's was closer to $400 million, according to executives familiar with the matter. It's not clear who would have run the combined operation, but G&J had been searching for top management while Hachette has a veteran CEO, Jack Kliger, and an heir apparent, Chief Operating Officer Phillipe Guelton, firmly in place.

A Hachette spokeswoman did not return calls by press time.

With the deal talks over, G&J needed a president-CEO. It selected Reiman Media Group CEO Russell Denson, a low-profile executive little known in New York media circles, to serve as its president-CEO, filling a slot vacant since former CEO Dan Brewster was fired more than four months ago.

Hiring 'speaks for itself'
Axel Ganz, G&J's international head who introduced Mr. Denson to staffers, said he could not confirm or comment on any past discussions. He said G&J was subject to several unspecified inquiries from various companies and that no discussions were ongoing. "The fact we've hired a new CEO speaks for itself," he said.

Mr. Denson, 53, came into publishing through the finance side and his resume includes stints at '80s startup Hippocrates, which was sold to Time Inc. in 1990, along with Health, and then as chief financial officer of Weider Publications. He was named CEO of Weider in 2001. American Media then bought the Weider titles in late 2002. He was named to his post at Reiman, an advertising-free stable of titles owned by Reader's Digest Association, in 2003. Between publishing stints, he ran and then sold a biotechnology firm and a toy company, and dabbled in the dot-com world through Web site

As a G&J candidate, he flew well below the radar, but two executives said he had traveled to Germany in recent weeks to meet with G&J's top brass.

Not from the A-list
Even Mr. Denson's fans concede he's not from the A-list of magazine executives whose names surface whenever a new CEO is sought. Among them: Time Inc.'s executive vice president, Michael Klingensmith; Fairchild CEO Mary Berner; and Conde Nast's chief marketing officer, Richard Beckman, all of whom received entreaties. Other executives contacted include TV Guide Publishing President John Loughlin, ESPN's executive vice president, John Skipper, and former Ziff Davis publishing head Mike Perlis. In play until late in the game was former TV Guide CEO David Steward, who was a finalist for the top job at Rodale that went to Steven Murphy in 2000. (Mr. Steward did not return calls seeking comment.)

Mr. Denson, who begins at G&J June 14, inherits a company reeling from bad publicity that came in the wake of its disastrous legal battle with erstwhile business partner, entertainer Rosie O'Donnell, as well as from revelations it significantly overstated newsstand circulation for certain titles, including teen title YM.

G&J USA's other titles are: Child, Family Circle, Fast Company, Fitness and Parents.

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