Why Mike Klingensmith Could Make Sense as Next Time Inc. CEO

Former exec seen as top candidate for job

Time Incers are buzzing following reports that former exec Mike Klingensmith is in the lead to become the company’s next CEO as it prepares to spin off from Time Warner by the end of the year.

It’s been four months since the spinoff and search for a new CEO were announced. Current CEO Laura Lang is slated to leave at the time of the split. Time Warner chairman Jeff Bewkes is said to be looking for someone with strong financial chops to run Time Inc., which will have to sell itself to Wall Street, manage declining print ad revenue and map out Time Inc.’s digital future. The goal was to hire someone by mid-summer. 

Internally, CFO Howard Averill, one of the trio who ran the company briefly after ex-CEO Jack Griffin got the boot after five months, has been seen as the frontrunner although the fact that he hasn’t gotten the job by now makes that seem less likely. Of rumored candidates outside the company, Klingensmith is the most credible.

Klingensmith didn’t respond to request for comment. Time Inc. and Time Warner reps declined to comment on specifics about the search.

While technically an outsider, Klingensmith qualifies as an insider, having put in 30-plus years there, and after two outsider CEOs were rejected, would be a safe pick. While at Time Inc., he presided over key brands, Time and Sports Illustrated, and helped launch Entertainment Weekly, something of a feat in a large, bureaucratic organization. Klingensmith was widely seen as a candidate to be CEO until the job went to Ann Moore in 2002. Inside the building, there are still a lot of current Time Incers who know and respect him.

Klingensmith took a buyout in 2008, spending some time at investment bank AdMedia Partners before returning to his hometown of Minneapolis to be CEO and publisher of the Star-Tribune in 2010. After he implemented a metered paywall, it’s been widely considered a rare newspaper success story these days.

Perhaps as important as his financial background and turnaround success, Klingensmith could be a stabilizing force at a company that’s had three CEOs in three years. Well-liked, Klingensmith is described by former colleagues as a “consummate leader,” collaborative and a “deliberate” decision maker. Those who know him say while Klingensmith didn’t like the New York life, he might come back for an opportunity as big as this one.

If Klingensmith gets the job, there are a number of former execs he worked with who he might bring back. They include Jack Haire, Andy Sareyan (who has been consulting at Time Inc.) and Joe Ripp. 

Of course, how long the goodwill lasts when he has to start making cuts is another question.

“One hour,” quipped an insider.


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