Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Wanted: Revenue-raising, inspiring Star Tribune CEO/Publisher

More from the pretty-sure-it’s-genuine, months-old Star Tribune CEO/Publisher search document:

In addition to a frank acknowledgment of the paper’s ongoing ideology (or lack thereof), the document, prepared by global headhunting consultants SpencerStuart, is mostly frank about the paper’s future and financial strategy.

Come work for new owners — who want to leave
The paper’s lenders — mostly buy-low types or financiers holding the bag from Avista Capital’s 2007 purchase — will assume ownership reluctantly. Therefore, it’s no shock that the document states they don’t want to hang around long.

However, getting out won’t be easy. Acknowledging that the paper will have new owners “for the second time in a little over two years,” the document anticipates “another transition within a few years since the lenders are not likely to be permanent owners.”

Points for honesty. It will be interesting to see which exec takes the job knowing the people who hired her or him already eye the exits. Then again, there aren’t many six-figure media jobs out there, no matter the duration.

The recession as fig leaf
Only the hardest-core laborite would argue the Strib didn’t need to cost-cut in the face of declining revenues. But one head-snapper: Avista would have cut costs “even without the recession.”

The document blames “generations of family and McClatchy ownership” for allowing expenses to “balloon.”

There may be some truth to that, but the uncharitable interpretation?  We were cutting your pay regardless of a media-wide advertising depression.

That’s not surprising for a private equity firm, but remember than in 2007 — the last pre-recession year — the Strib pulled down a $56 million operating profit. True, revenues were already falling big time, but that profit was at least $20 million more than debt payments, roughly a 19 percent margin on revenues.

The document accurately predicts that bankruptcy would allow the Strib to renegotiate “outdated” labor contracts and effectively impose management’s final offers. In most cases, that’s exactly what happened. Whatever outgoing publisher Chris Harte’s demerits, he managed bankruptcy swimmingly, from ownership’s point of view.

The good news
As management has subsequently stated in its reorganization plan, the company thinks the worst is over. According to the search document, management’s attention will pass from labor battles and Chapter 11 to implementing “strategies currently being developed to grow revenues.”

Based on facts gathered elsewhere, I’d say those strategies are only now being baked, and will not be implemented (or even settled upon) until the new CEO arrives.

Sure, management might be spinning a rosy scenario to attract candidates, but the document is otherwise blunt about the risks, so I’ll take the prediction as sincere, if optimistic.

What does a leader look like?
In an assessment that will anger many but have some nodding in agreement, the document praises “independent employees and most union employees” (emphasis mine) as “loyal, highly committed and invested in the company’s future.”

However, “they have been through exceptionally turbulent times and need strong leadership as the company emerges from bankruptcy and recession.”

What does “strong leadership” look like? Mostly familiar stuff to corporate vets:

  • Ability to articulate a vision, mobilize the workforce and aggressively serve readers and advertisers (listed in that order).
  • Unquestioned reputation for integrity and ethics. (No Par Ridders please!)
  • Hands-on executives (I always wish they would add “but not a micro-manager”) who has “skills in persuasively presenting innovative points to convince audiences to adopt a different course of action or to take ownership of newly introduced revenue-generating initiatives.”

Ideal experience qualities are logical:

  • Big-company management experience
  • Revenue-growing track record,
  • “Strong comprehension of and familiarity with internet-based operations”
  • Leadership experience “in a unionized company” and “a company completely dependent on local community trust.”

How many miracle workers are available? I guess you only need one.

What’s not there
Any notion of taking the Pioneer Press out.

The St. Paul paper is mentioned only once. The document notes the Twin Cities are one of the few remaining areas with two newspapers, but implicitly cautions that a takeover shouldn’t be assumed, because St. Paul (and, I’d add, much of the east metro) has its own identity. That sounds right to me.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by dan buechler on 08/27/2009 - 06:39 pm.

    Yeah I heard Par has a bit part in whit stillman’s new feature film about the downward mobility of the yuppie class.

  2. Submitted by Richard Parker on 08/27/2009 - 11:29 pm.

    I know the state of the industry and the “perfect storm” timing of the recession had something to do with my departure from the Strib after 37 years, and it’s a very different economic climate that the unions face. But I just feel like saying I’m grateful to the Newspaper Guild and the labor movement for giving me a middle-class income and benefits that allowed me to own a home, raise a family and help my daughters get through college and graduate school and start making their own contributions to science, education and society. (Not to journalism, sad to say — or fortunately.) I started on the Tribune copy desk at $140 a week, but got steady raises under the civilized negotiations between our Guild local and the Cowles representatives. Near the end of the 1970s some executive began bleating about shaping up an “overweight, paternalistic” organization, and under the “Plan for the ’80s” it got bumpier for us working stiffs, including, I gather, those without union representation. I don’t think the Plan for the ’80s included folding the Star and worrying about a hostile takeover by Gannett if the third-generation Cowles kids decided to cash out their holdings. Looking back now, the wizards say that “generations of family and McClatchy ownership” allowed expenses to “balloon” — in other words, owners who were serious about putting out a newspaper for the community valued the contributions of those who produced their product and treated them accordingly, if less and less generously as the ’80s, ’90s and ‘oughts went on. My heartfelt support goes out to those still on board and plugging away as the papers deal with real economic threats and the absence of owners who really care about the product they’re producing.

  3. Submitted by dan buechler on 08/28/2009 - 08:24 am.

    I would like to second Mr. Parkers comments. When I worked for Gannet the wage/benefit package was much less and there was constant turnover much more difficult to build or maintain a family. At the old Startribune it was better. I also think it is a shame how Gary Pruitt and Chris Harte act like they are some infantile rock stars with their beautiful land holdings in California and Texas. Realizing that the industry economic climate is much cooler now I would like to remind your readers again that many of the independent jobs are now being done by independent contractors who do age and get hurt and have little recourse. Now let us have again the editorial board praise the virtues of less government and less regulation.

  4. Submitted by Barbara Miller on 08/28/2009 - 11:12 am.

    Here’s an idea! How about McClatchy??? Oh. Been there, done that. Never mind.

  5. Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 08/28/2009 - 01:37 pm.

    Striking, isn’t it, how “ideal experience qualities” seem to make no mention of newspapers or journalism…

  6. Submitted by dan buechler on 08/28/2009 - 02:46 pm.

    How about Moyer at 60% of his former pay. Could they then have the management team let go and reapply for their former jobs?

Leave a Reply