Mary Berner is out as president and CEO of Reader’s Digest Association after its newly elected board replaced her with the company’s CFO, Tom Williams.
A former rising star at Advance Publications, Berner was enlisted to turn around RDA when it went private in 2007. She hired a slew of her old compatriots from Condé Nast and Fairchild Publications, launched new titles, and sought to instill a hard-charging culture at the sleepy, Westchester-based company.
But the ad recession curtailed those plans. What followed were deep cuts in head count, a shrunken flagship Reader’s Digest, and a prepackaged bankruptcy, from which the company emerged last year. A week ago, shareholders, which now include the hedge funds Alden Global Capital and Point Lobos Capital, appointed a new slate of board directors now led by Randall Curran.
Berner pointed out that she was leaving the company in good shape. "My job's done," she told Adweek. "I successfully saw the company through a balance-sheet restructuring, the stock has doubled over the past year; we have really good strategies in place. We started to see the momentum in the fourth-quarter earnings call. [My] vision is different. So it's time for my No. 2 to step up."
Williams, who has been the company’s numbers man for the past two years, had been the CFO for Affinion Group and AT&T Networks. In addition to serving as RDA’s CFO, he also has been president of one of its media and entertainment units. Along with today’s announcement, he also will go on the board.
While some of her high-level appointees have since left the company, including Alyce Alston and Eva Dillon, Berner’s exit could spell more turnover for some of her other prominent hires, including Dan Lagani, president of Reader’s Digest Media, and Suzanne Grimes, who as North American Affinities president runs RDA’s other lifestyle brands outside of the flagship.