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Friday, March 30, 2007

Hasta La Vista (For a week) 

I have some thoughts on VSS's acquisition of Advanstar, but won't be able to post until after next week. The family and I are off to Mexico for a short spring break trip, where I will be avoiding internet connections and attempting not to put out my eye on one of those little drink umbrellas.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Er...Wow 

VSS Buys Advanstar for $1.15 Billion

Folio: is reporting that Veronis Suhler Stevenson, along with Citigroup Private Equity and New York Life Capital Partners, has bought Advanstar for $1.15 billion. See story linked above.

I'll try to have something cogent to say about this later.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Another Bob 

This is a bad time for major publishing figures. Robert Petersen has also died.

Via IWantMedia.

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About Bob 

I guess I assumed that Bob Krakoff would die on the job—he didn’t seem the retiring sort—but I also assumed that it would happen somewhere in the distant future, maybe 10 or 15 years from now.

This is my eulogy to Bob, who was a true giant of the b2b media business, and whose impact will be felt for a long time to come.

First, let’s start with Bob as a polarizing figure. From my discussions with people who worked for Bob, you either loved him or disliked him. With Bob, there wasn’t much middle ground.

A friend of mine put it this way: “Bob was really supportive of the creative people and the salespeople—the doers. He didn’t really have much time for people he saw as ‘managers.’ He was hardest on them, because he kept pushing them to provide more support for the doers, to give them what they needed to succeed.”

I never worked directly for Bob* (our time at Advanstar was separated by a couple of years), but I got to know him after I launched my company. We met at some conference, and in classic Bob fashion, he made an instant fan out of me by knowing who I was, and complimenting me on the things I had done at Advanstar.

He backed up that initial impression by always taking my phone calls and by making the time to have meetings with me and some of my clients, when we had possible joint opportunities. I’m sure he didn’t give a second thought to this, but having access to Bob was a really important step in the growth of my company, and I’ll never forget his generosity. And nor will I forget the power of his thinking, and his ability to make decisions.

And that’s where Bob as a polarizing figure resolves: almost everyone I know, regardless of how they felt about him personally, had immense respect for his intellect, his skills and his drive.

And that’s the Bob that our business will miss: a man who built substantial companies, who was able to navigate the rough waters of the financial world, while keeping his eye squarely on the details of the business. He was able to see the value of managing multiple-media brands (as opposed to managing magazines, trade shows, conferences and online activities separately) and had the will to structure his businesses accordingly. Bob was an agent of change, willing to take risks, and push himself and his people out of their areas of comfort.

That’s why I was excited to see what he could do with VNU Business Media. In his short time there, he made a massive number of changes. There were key hires, key structural and management changes. There was lots of discomfort—many people left, either because they were asked, or because they wanted out.

From what I understand, Bob was working mightily to break down bureaucratic walls, to get the brands to work together, to get the current staffs to cooperate with each other. I'm sure that he was tough as hell on his managers.

A key part of that effort was the use of the Nielsen name for the business as a whole. There was no greater signal that the magazines and trade shows needed to learn how to better work with their sister brand, the media research giant—and vice-versa.

With the loss of Bob, I worry that Nielsen Business Media will begin to backslide, returning to its comfortable media/brand silos, as opposed to leveraging all of those brands to the benefit of its readers and advertisers. After all, it’s a lot easier to avoid change.

I hope that the private equity owners of this giant company, and its corporate leaders, will honor the legacy of Bob Krakoff by recruiting an executive with a similar vision, a similar brilliance and a similar will to make the tough and unpopular decisions that will need to be made.

And a final word to Bob Krakoff: Thank you, sir.



*Though I have had the pleasure of working with or for several other polarizing figures in my career, and I’ve always gotten along wonderfully with them. There are two reasons for this: polarizing people tend to be brutally honest, which I prefer, and I’m aware that I’ve been seen as a polarizing figure myself.

See Tony Silber's fine reflections on Bob here.

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