Primedia CEO Shown the Door

Tom Rogers, the man who orchestrated Primedia’s heavy
spending on several failed Internet initiatives, has quit the $1.2 million-a-year CEO gig, citing “differences regarding the future direction of the
company.”

The departure of Rogers comes at a time when the online/offline
publishing giant has been busy selling off many unprofitable units and
mulling the sale of its flagship title Seventeen.

Controlling shareholder Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR), was
reportedly unhappy with the returns on many Internet-focused acquisitions signed off by
Rogers, including the whopping $690 million
deal
for About.com, a transaction that Rogers described as the
“transformation” of Primedia’s publishing operations.

The big plan was to leverage the offline (trade magazines) and online properties (About.com’s guide sites) to deliver targeted marketing opportunities and cross-media marketing outlets for advertisers. It gave Rogers a legitimate Internet property to jumpstart the goal of integrating old-line media with the Web, much like promise from the AOL/Time Warner mega deal.

But, it never quite worked, and Primedia spent the last two years trying to rejigger the business to cope with the decline in online ad spending.

During his four-year-term at the helm of the New York-based company,
Primedia also shuttered its
venture capital unit, which was set up to invest in consumer-facing Web
content and commerce companies, as well as business-to-business Web-based
software and services.Rogers also maneuvered a complicated deal to acquire
Brill Media and followed up with the purchase of Web publisher Inside.com.

But those big bets that Internet content could be meshed with offline
titles to appeal to advertisers never quite panned out and the continued
decline in the online advertising market forced Primedia to implement salary
freezes
and restructure many of those arrangements.

KKR, a private equity firm led by leveraged buyout guru Henry Kravis, which has
about $1 billion invested in the debt-ridden Primedia, pulled the plug on
Rogers’ tenure as chairman and chief executive during the contract
negotiation process.

In the interim, Primedia president Charles McCurdy will assume the CEO
job “while the Board of Directors conducts a search for a permanent Chief
Executive Officer among both internal and external candidates,” the company
said.

Both sides kept a straight face in a statement announcing Rogers’
departure. “Tom has led Primedia through a difficult period in its
evolution and has accomplished a lot for the Company. However, Tom and the
Board recognize we have real differences in the strategic direction of the
Company that surfaced in the contract renewal process,” said Henry Kravis,
the KKR boss who is a Primedia director.

Rogers also cited “differences” with the board over what should be the
next chapter for Primedia.

It is not the first time KKR has parted ways with a Primedia CEO. Back
in 1999, Rogers was himself the beneficiary of a KKR decision to push
William Reilly out as CEO in favor of an executive who was familiar with the
Internet.

Rogers was lured away from NBC, where he helped shape the network’s
Internet-based initiatives.

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