By: Jennifer Saba
Knight Ridder has certainly experienced a flurry of activity lately. A big newspaper swap. A massive $10 million share repurchase program. And now dealing with the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina surrounding its Sun-Herald in Biloxi, Miss.
Through it all, CEO Tony Ridder has been front and center, even flying to Mississippi to help rally the troops, post-Katrina. But Ridder will not always head the company. In fact, he is devising an exit strategy. Though Ridder, who turns 65 this month, has no immediate plans to retire as Chairman and CEO, he is obliged to help in the succession process, and he has now made his wishes clear.
It was long presumed that Steve Rossi, head of Knight Ridder’s newspaper division, was the heir apparent. But late last year, the company made a surprising announcement: Rossi would become senior vice president, CFO, a major position to be sure, but clearing the path for two new executive appointments: Hilary Schneider and Art Brisbane were named co-senior vice presidents of the division.
Schneider and Brisbane’s new roles implied a bigger responsibility: ?I thought, all things considered, that those two were the best people to succeed me,? Ridder told E&P for this month’s cover story. ?My hope is that one would be No.1 and one would be No. 2.?
Schneider, 44, is the former CEO of Knight Ridder Digital and one of the most respected authorities on online operations. Under her watch, KRD was up 43.7% in 2004, with about $114 million in revenue.
She is well positioned to move newspaper content online. ?We need to connect the way we think about segmenting audiences and [offering] them benefits so that we can survive,? she said.
Brisbane, in contrast, worked his way up to the executive suite as a reporter, columnist, editor, and most recently, publisher of The Kansas City Star.
?I think if you could argue that if we’re going to grow readers, we’re going to have to invest on the original-content side,? Brisbane, 54, said. ?We need better-paid reporters who will produce higher-quality work.?
Says Ridder, “I’m not going to hang around forever.” If his wishes are followed, a Ridder will not succeed him, but he explains, “We’re not a family business. We’re very much a public company.”
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