The news comes a year after Townsend stepped aside as the company’s chief executive officer, giving up the reins to president Bob Sauerberg.
Condé Nast does not plan to replace Townsend as succession, although S.I. Newhouse Jr. remains chairman emeritus.
In a memo to employees on Tuesday, Townsend told employees that “after careful planning with the Newhouse family,” he has decided to retire on Dec. 31.
Townsend was named chairman in January, after having served as ceo of Condé Nast from 2004 to 2015. His departure signals a change at the company, which is in the process of reorganizing the business under Sauerberg and new hire Jim Norton, who serves as chief business officer and president of revenue.
“I’m proud to say, looking back over my career at Condé Nast, there’s only one thing I would have wished differently, and that is that S.I. Newhouse had enjoyed continuing good health,” Townsend said. “I have missed him dearly these last few years, which has driven home to me his remarkable influence on our great company. My partnership with S.I. and the dedication of every one of you who contributed to make Condé Nast the preeminent magazine publisher in the world has been more than anyone could have ever wished for in a career. And I thank you sincerely.”
Townsend turned to the realities of the media industry, offering: “The business world is hard at work reinventing itself. Every sector, every established company, is radically adjusting to the new economic order and the transformation to digitally driven connections with clients and consumers. Condé Nast is no exception.”
The ceo explained that a succession plan has been in the works for several years and that under Sauerberg, the company will be led “back to preeminence in the newly developing business sector.”
After reminiscing about Condé’s rich history under S.I. Newhouse, the executive underscored the importance of having a “digital-first” approach to content today.
He concluded, noting that “it’s clear this company must also transition to being recognized as digital-first in every endeavor we undertake; must be recognized as being a first choice for careers in digital content creativity, marketing and technology. And it must be recognized as the leading innovator in our sector in platform development and innovative technology.”
According to sources, Condé Nast will continue to reorganize its structure to better position itself for the digital era by the end of the year. The company, which tapped MediaLink as a consultant on its restructuring, recently said it is combining its creative, copy and research teams across its various titles in order to cut costs in the face of steep print revenue declines.