After only five months on the job, Jack Griffin was fired as Time Inc. chief executive officer on Thursday. Griffin came into Time Inc. after being recruited — rather surprisingly — from Meredith Corp. and was given a mandate to make sweeping changes. It did not last.
“Although Jack is an extremely accomplished executive, I concluded that his leadership style and approach did not mesh with Time Inc. and Time Warner,” wrote Time Warner ceo Jeffrey Bewkes in a bluntly worded e-mail to employees that went out just after 6:30 on Thursday evening.
Time Inc. sources said Griffin’s relationship with other executives at both the divisional and group levels was rocky from the start and gradually got worse.
“Time Inc. has long operated on the collegial consensus approach and I don’t think that was Jack’s strength,” said one source. “I have no idea how they do things at Meredith.”
But even if his first few months were rocky, it didn’t seem to slow him down. Griffin’s overhaul of the company — which included a vast restructuring of the business side of the magazine division — wasn’t the problem for Time Warner executives like Bewkes, sources said. First-quarter results were looking fine, as well. “It wasn’t the changes,” said another Time Inc. source. “It wasn’t the substance of those changes. It was how he made the changes.” The source went on to describe Griffin as “alienating” and that Bewkes was beginning to worry that the Time Inc. culture would be affected, and defections would begin.
“He was perceived as acting as the smartest guy in the room and the only smart guy in the room,” said a source.
Griffin, 49, exited Meredith in August, where he spent the better part of the last decade overseeing the National Media Group and was seen as integral to the success of the company’s 360-degree marketing approach. He dramatically turned around Meredith’s fortunes, and closed fiscal 2010 with a company-best 12.3 percent market share of total magazine industry ad revenue, according to Meredith’s own figures.
And it was exactly those successes that led Time Warner to lure Griffin from the flatlands of Des Moines to the canyons of Manhattan. He was seen as the un-Ann Moore, his predecessor who many criticized for her detached management style. Joining Time Inc. in late September, Griffin went right to work making changes, including firing Dawn Bridges, the publisher’s longtime senior vice president of corporate communications, and hiring Interactive Advertising Bureau ceo Randall Rothenberg as executive vice president, chief digital officer, a new position. Griffin broke up the News and Sports Group created by Moore and put different executives in charge of each. He created a digital marketing and business development group. Many executives were switched in and out of roles, including changing publishers at Time, Sports Illustrated and Money.
Four months ago, Griffin was named chairman of the board of the MPA (a spokesman for the MPA did not return a call by press time to discuss Griffin’s future).
An indication of Griffin’s sudden downfall is that Time Warner didn’t even line up a replacement before getting rid of him. In his memo, Bewkes said Time Inc. chief financial adviser Howard Averill, general counsel Maurice Edelson and editor in chief John Huey would serve as interim leaders “until a permanent successor is identified.”