NEW YORK — Ziff Davis Media Inc., one of several technology-oriented publishers navigating its way through a difficult advertising environment, said Monday that it replaced its top executive, days after the concern disclosed tepid performance for its fiscal first quarter.
The company said that it replaced James D. Dunning Jr. as its chairman, president and chief executive, effective immediately.
Ziff Davis, which was acquired by private-equity investment firm Willis Stein & Partners for $780 million in April 2000, said Friday that revenue during the quarter ended June 30 fell to $78.9 million from $125.6 million in the year-earlier period. Advertising pages during the quarter fell 47.5%. Ziff Davis also cut its staff by 23%.
Avy Stein, a member of the Ziff Davis Media board and a Willis Stein founding partner, will serve as interim chairman and chief executive until a permanent replacement is appointed. No other management changes are planned.
“It’s a very tough climate, and we think we need a very market-focused CEO who is also a great hands-on operator and is very customer focused,” Mr. Stein told Dow Jones Newswires in an interview. Dunning “is a visionary and a very, very smart guy. We didn’t feel that he was the best person in this climate to be CEO of Ziff Davis.”
When asked if the parting was amicable, Mr. Stein declined to comment. “I don’t think it’s useful for us to characterize it,” he said.
Mr. Stein said the company had engaged a headhunting firm, and had already conducted interviews with “several people.”
The move would appear to end – for now – what was once a powerful and profitable alliance.
Mr. Dunning and the Willis Stein firm picked up Petersen Publishing in 1996 for a reported $465 million. The pair took the company public in 1997. By 1999, the group sold the company, which included titles like Teen, Hot Rod and Motor Trend, to Emap PLC for a reported $1.5 billion.
Emap, which wanted to use the purchase as a means of entering the U.S. publishing market, would later find the titles difficult to manage. Emap unloaded most of the operation to Primedia Inc. (PRM) in July for a reported $515 million, a figure sharply below expectations.
A spokeswoman said Mr. Dunning wasn’t available for comment.
Additionally, Ziff Davis squelched rumors that it might consider selling some of its consumer titles, like Expedia Travels or Yahoo! Internet Life. Ziff Davis Media “is not seeking buyers for its consumer titles, or any other titles,” the company said in a prepared statement.
Mr. Stein also noted that the company is committed to publications it has recently launched, such as CIO Insight and PCMag.com, as well as the upcoming launch of Baseline.
The company is committed to a long-term operation of Ziff Davis, he said. “We believe technology is an extremely important part of what consumers and businesspeople want to know about,” Mr. Stein said.
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