Will losing yin to Jann's yang slow Wenner?

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For 31 years, Kent Brownridge was the second most powerful person at Wenner Media, serving as Jann Wenner's tough guy general manager. His boss may have been the public face, but Mr. Brownridge was the one who became notorious within the tight world of magazine publishing.

After last week's unexpected announcement that Mr. Brownridge would depart at the end of the year, insiders and outsiders alike wonder how well Wenner Media will do without him.

Mr. Brownridge, after all, is one of the few people who knew how to challenge the mercurial Mr. Wenner on his whims. At a meeting earlier this year, for example, Mr. Wenner proposed changing the name of Men's Journal. Mr. Brownridge quickly objected, arguing that both advertisers that had already bought space in the magazine and potential advertisers would be put off by the change. Mr. Brownridge's view prevailed, but soon he will be gone. (And Mr. Wenner has recently re-installed himself as editor in chief of that magazine.)

Mr. Brownridge has earned a reputation for tightfisted control of expenses and an abrupt manner with underlings. But his dissent provided cover for others to speak up too. "One of Kent's strengths was that he knew how to stand up," Mr. Wenner said last week. "I'm not the most accepting of criticism, and Kent appreciated that, but he kept at it."

Hard to imagine

A replacement of Mr. Brownridge's caliber is hard for many to imagine. "Kent Brownridge will be very difficult to replace without breaking up his job," said Terry McDonnell, managing editor, Time Inc.'s Sports Illustrated, whose multiple stints at Wenner included editing Men's Journal and creating the prototype for US Weekly. "That will be the temporary solution, but someone has to keep everything front-of-mind, take the measure of strategic planning and think about where the company is going to be down the road. Kent did all of those things."

As word of Mr. Brownridge's pending exit spread, past and present Wenner employees weighed in, but typically on condition of anonymity. (The list of those he fired, retired, laid off or saw out the door is lengthy.) A sampling of their comments suggests why they declined to be identified.

"The idea that he was this circulation genius is hilarious," one said.

"He took power away from the publishers, so they were looked at as ad sales people," said another. "You could see how power accrued to him."

But others spoke highly of Mr. Brownridge's acumen in circulation, distribution, manufacturing and strategy.

"I never felt disempowered working with Kent or Jann," Mr. McDonnell said.

With few exceptions, one consensus emerged among the many voices: Wenner is worse off without Mr. Brownridge. "It's a catastrophe for the company because as crazy as Kent was and as crazy as some of this theories were, Jann is crazier," said one.

Mr. Wenner, not surprisingly, disagreed. "We'll make it," he said. "Our job over the next several months is to manage the transition to a different management style."

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