Essig Is Just Latest in String of Rodale Departures

'Men's Health' publisher is third higher-up to leave lately

Rodale is facing a real brain drain: Jack Essig, who defected for Hearst earlier this week, is just the latest top talent to leave the health and fitness publisher. 

Essig was a rising star at Rodale, where he presided over the rapid growth of Men’s Health and spin-off Women’s Health. He quit to go to Hearst to lead Esquire and the magazine publisher's new Men’s Enthusiast Group.

In other recent departures, Bill Stump, a longtime Rodale editorial executive, stepped down in June after 13 years with the company. And in December, David Kang, who was general manager of, left; he was hired by Hearst Magazines for a brand development role. Neither is being replaced. In 2010, Rodale lost Liz Vaccariello, the high-profile editor of Prevention.

Those changes followed the appointment of CEO Maria Rodale, a member of the company's founding family. She took over in 2009, replacing an outsider, Steve Murphy. Her move into the top job surprised the publishing community—while she had held various jobs at the company, she was light on business leadership experience.

Group publisher Mary Murcko says some of the losses are a reflection of Rodale's own success. “It’s an incredibly competitive space, and we’ve really taken the lead in digital," she said. "We have a lot of talented people here and continue to have a lot talented people here. As more companies have shifted there, they were looking to who has demonstrated success. And a lot of them looked to us.”

Ronan Gardiner, associate publisher of Men's Health, was promoted to succeed Essig as publisher. Rodale will split off Women's Health and look for a new publisher dedicated to that title. "The brands have become so big, it's the right time," said Murcko, who made the announcement to staff Thursday.

Rodale also laid off around 20 people yesterday in what the company called a realignment to meet digital requirements, although Murcko said the company has been making hires in digital.

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