Four years into her run as CEO of health and fitness publisher Rodale, Maria Rodale is looking to bring in both a president and COO help to run the 83-year-old family-controlled company.
In an email to staff, Maria Rodale said that the president would take care of the day-to-day business while the COO would deal with increasing efficiency and technology matters. But Rodale insisted that she would continue to be “very active” at the company. "As I’ve said to the core team, rest assured that I’m not stepping back, I’m stepping forward. I’m ready to grow, too!" she wrote.
Observers might be forgiven for interpreting Maria Rodale's news otherwise; after all, she was a surprising choice for CEO from the start when she took the job in 2009, and some questioned how long she would stay in the post. Despite her family name and having served in various roles at the company over the years, she lacked a conventional chief executive background, having never been a publisher or sold an ad.
She's made some unconventional moves, giving editors expanded business roles within a new organizational structure. This spring, with Rodale facing a challenged print ad climate, she launched a stand-alone e-commerce play, Rodale’s. She's also expressed a desire to expand the company’s books beyond “big diet books,” a reference to its past big hits like South Beach Diet and Eat This, Not That.
But she's stood out for her folksy memos and public blog, Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen, where she muses about such topics as the superiority of rural Pennsylvania (where the company is headquartered) over New York (“it’s not crowded, overpriced, or filled with trend seekers”), People and her other favorite magazines (“It's just better than The Economist for keeping up with the news of the world”), and her uses of the daily newspaper (“to start fires in the winter and to light the grill—in my grill chimney—in the summer, so it is useful…”)
Questions about Maria Rodale's management grew as a string of high-level business and editorial executives left the company under her watch, including evp MaryAnn Bekkedahl and Men’s Health editor David Zinczenko. Many of those who left were based in New York, fueling the feeling that the company was shifting its base back to its Emmaus, Pa., base, where it's headquartered (and where Prevention moved its core editorial staff earlier this year). Maria Rodale was traveling and unavailable for further comment. Still, a rep maintained that things couldn't be better at Rodale, noting that print ad pages for the first half of the year were at their highest ever.