By: Karim Mostafa
Ste. Marie Oversaw Brand, Audience Growth
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by Karim Mostafa
In a little less than two weeks, the man behind the newspaper
industry’s largest concerted effort to corner the online recruitment
market is packing up and moving on.
Two years have passed since Stephen Ste. Marie was appointed CEO of CareerPath.com (CP), the Web site recently acquired by Knight Ridder
and Tribune Co. for an upcoming merger with CareerBuilder. In that
time, CP received considerable attention and criticism – called
everything from ‘misguided ship” to ‘newspaper behemoth.” Today,
the man at the helm of CP during this rocky journey looks back and
says, ‘Great fodder for debate.”
Always operating in the shadow of the aptly named Monster.com, CP
never quite found its footing. Despite becoming the No. 2 jobs site
online, CP was held back by technology problems and a divided board
of directors. As the newspaper company owners debated the direction
of the company, decisions were delayed – deadly in the dot-com race.
Unlike Monster.com, CP faced the daunting challenge of integrating
dozens of different databases, some of them housed in dinosaur
But Ste. Marie says his biggest challenge at CP was that not every
newspaper marketed or monetized the site to its fullest potential.
Newspapers didn’t take advantage of their advertising resources to
promote their own career sites.
Still, CP managed to grow, according to Media Metrix, from an
audience of 0.7 million when he arrived to 3.0 million users this
past May. When Ste. Marie joined CP on July 1, 1998, he took over
from Renee LeBraun, who had been an interim CEO on loan from the
Times Mirror Co. LeBraun had developed CP and its distribution
strategy with 12 employees and a handful of contractors.
Ste. Marie said CP was in perfect shape for what he was brought in
to do next. His experience with brand building began at Diet Pepsi,
where he worked with 900-plus bottlers. Then he moved on to the cable industry, getting networks to sign on to Time Warner Cable, and for
six years prior to joining CP he coordinated sales of DirecTV in
more than 30,000 retail stores.
With his branding expertise, Ste. Marie was brought into a completely
new industry to try and make some headway in an unknown market with
the healthy product LeBraun handed over.
The first step was to coalesce individual newspapers into a unified
sales structure. The next step was to find technology that permitted
the Web site’s job listings to be searchable. CP had more than 100
affiliate newspapers using 35 different feeds, and the feeds’ breadth prevented users from searching successfully.
‘We had to do a wholesale change in architecture that only became
operative early this year,” says Ste. Marie. The person behind the
new database was Peter Alexander, senior vice president of technology
and chief technology officer, who Ste. Marie hired in September 1999. According to Ste. Marie, he was the first one capable of putting it
Ste. Marie says he was given quite a bit of flexibility from the board,
which consisted of representatives from seven major newspaper companies. Contrary to the common view of old media as the turtle in the Internet
race, Ste. Marie found the board to be extremely savvy and rather
generous in granting him the freedom he needed to operate quickly.
These same companies – the Washington Post Co., Tribune, Knight Ridder,
the New York Times Co., the Hearst Corp., Gannett Co. Inc., and Cox Interactive Media – also provided their own companies’ technology
experts for CP’s benefit.
Ste. Marie did find that some of CP’s owners were pushing harder in
the Internet space than others. ‘Tribune and Knight Ridder are more
biased to action,” comments Ste. Marie. ‘They are prepared to make
the investments. They work at Internet speed.’
But some of the newspaper companies committed to CP pursued other opportunities that some observers felt weakened the development of the
group effort. Washingtonpost.com, for example, has made a concerted
effort to penetrate the local market with WashingtonJobs.com instead
of pursuing the national market.
Washington Post Co. also invested in BrassRing Inc., a recruitment
service for technology careers, through its subsidiary Kaplan. Other
BrassRing investors initially included Tribune, Central Newspapers Inc.,
and Accel Partners. Gannett, too, ended up with an interest in BrassRing
once it bought Central. Hearst also made other investments such as
Some industry analysts interpreted the varied investments as desperate measures to prevent further loss of market share. But Ste. Marie saw
‘There was never a sense of panic. I think they [the newspaper
executives] had a very clear vision,” says Ste. Marie. The companies recognized a transition going on, so they invested in job fairs and recruitment-related media. ‘That’s franchise,” he observes. He
believes that newspapers wanted to get behind all the opportunities
that could possibly cannibalize their print product.
For a few months last year, the board considered merging CP with
another online classified giant: Chicago-based Classified Ventures
(CV). ‘You couldn’t help but look at that as a strategic alternative,”
admits Ste. Marie. The CP board, which consists of some of the same
companies at CV, ultimately decided that CV had significant challenges
of its own and that ‘classifieds,” regardless of the category, don’t necessarily work together.
Career sites hoping to succeed will need to do two things, according
to Ste. Marie. First, a broad site must have verticality. It must
become a job career site that can ‘be helpful to [users], provide
information on continuing education, networking, salary tips, and
Q-and-A. … Users are doing more than just looking for a job, and
building a relationship with them provides continuity [for the site],”
he points out.
The other is product innovation. Ste. Marie strongly believes that
r?sum? searching by employers will be the next big innovation to
catch on. But the thing to keep in mind while searching for
innovation is ‘Evolutionary change, not revolutionary.”
Ste. Marie does keep a scorecard on evolutionary change that
occurred at CP under his tenure. CP had 42 newspaper affiliates
when he arrived; now the count is 100, of which 10 are non-owner
affiliates. Job listings were counted at 200,000 upon arrival, but
now they’re more than 450,000. CP didn’t have any Internet-only
listings when he arrived, but now the site has close to 100,000.
And in 18 to 21 months CP became the No. 2 career Web site on the
So now, as he walks away from a somewhat embattled company, he says
with what might already be a touch of nostalgia, ‘Users loved us.’
Karim Mostafa (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor
for E&P Online.
(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher