ON THE HUNT: Since the ouster of Tom Rogers as chief executive officer of Primedia in May, many believed the position would go to Charles McCurdy, the company’s president who was tapped as interim ceo.

A well-liked executive within its publishing arm, there was hope throughout much of the magazine unit that Primedia might make McCurdy permanent top dog.

This story first appeared in the July 11, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

That remains a serious possibility. Nevertheless, KKR, the leveraged buyout firm that controls the voting share of Primedia, appears to be searching far and wide, meeting with a slew of candidates who might be available for the job.

As far as outside contenders go, the name being heard most frequently in publishing circles is Michael Pepe, the former chief executive of Time Inc. International, who left the company this spring. One source, however, called a future with Primedia “old news.” Michael Perlis, who ran the tech publisher Ziff-Davis during the dot-com era, is another name making the rounds.

Primedia — through its headhunter Spencer Stuart — also contacted Kelly Conlin, the former ceo of the technology trade publisher IDG, but two sources believe talks broke off. Another distant possibility, according to sources, is Douglas Peabody, the former president of Wieder Publications.

So why has it taken three months and why does there continue to be little sign that the company is about to make an announcement?

Primedia, sources say, represents a challenge for headhunters, not simply because of its poor financial performance but because it has idiosyncratic qualities that are not typical of most magazine companies. For one, it is a public company in an industry that — with the exception of Time Inc. — is dominated by privately held publishing entities such as the Hearst Corp. and Advance Publications, owner of Condé Nast and Fairchild, WWD’s parent company. Very few executives with publishing experience have an understanding of shareholder relations and Wall Street, sources said. Second, Primedia’s ownership of About.com puts a premium on executives who know about technology as well. Third is strategic. Does KKR honcho. Henry Kravis want to liquidate the company or restructure it?

“I think he doesn’t know,” said a source inside the company who requested anonymity. “Will they sell New York? Probably, they’re essentially taking the temperature now and they’re not convinced they can get the right amount of money. You just get the incredible sense in this company that there is no leadership.”

“There is no attachment on Kravis’ part to this title,” said a second source. “It is a question of who to sell to and at what price.”

Primedia had no comment.

— Jacob Bernstein and Greg Lindsay

NEW MANAGEMENT: Advertisers that have a bone to pick with YM over the magazine’s circulation woes might have a tougher time finding someone to complain to. (Of course, there’s always Dan Brewster.) The publishing team responsible is gone — publisher Laura McEwen bolted to Reader’s Digest, and one associate publisher, Lauren Jay, is going with her in a similar capacity. New publisher Joan Sheridan dispatched the other, Richard Skeen, just days after taking over. But in case she’s tempted to blame her predecessors if any new circulation woes come to light, a Gruner + Jahr USA spokeswoman says the magazine will continue to award make-good pages to advertisers anytime it misses its rate base (which was six times in 2001).

Meanwhile, G+J USA has been busy hiring instead of firing over at its other problem child, the boom-time bible Fast Company. Now worth a fraction of the whopping $342.5 million G+J paid for it in 2000, the magazine is getting a full editorial makeover courtesy of new editor John Byrne. And while it originally made its mark as a New Age-y manual for workaholics, the team he’s hired is decidedly old school. New executive editor Mark Vamos hails from SmartMoney.com; managing editor Lynn Moloney, who’s written for Vanity Fair, among others; new San Francisco bureau chief Carleen Hawn arrived from Forbes, and the new art director, Dean Markadakis, has brought a few designers with him from PC Magazine. — G.L.

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