One Reason Behind Penton’s Current Woes: Managers Are Actually Idiots

Not the managers of Penton, per se. But any manager that says everyone is replaceable and uses this oft-quoted manager-speak to scare its employees into obedience and to encourage them to aspire to mediocrity. First off, if you plan on running a great business and besting the competition, not everyone is replaceable. See my old blog, theminsider, here for more on how this principle helped destroy a large part of Ascend Media’s business. Second, how does this apply to Penton?

The community marveled when Penton/ABRY turned its penny-stock, at-times-near-bankrupt, highly-leveraged business around and sold it to Prism/Wasserstein/et al for a nice little profit, and around a 60% premium above current stock prices (depending on what you consider current). That trick involved a lot of managerial wizzardry. What has happened since? Two things that I’d like to point out:

1. Most obviously, the economy has softened during an industry-wide (world-wide, really) revolution: One that changed the way the winning players did business; and one that allowed the introduction of many, many new players into a business with a traditionally impossibly high barrier to entry.

2. Much of the management team that turned Penton around is now elsewhere:

– At the top, Penton lost David Nussbaum, the CEO at the time. He is now at ABRY-owned F+W Publications as CEO.

Eric Shanfelt, who headed up e-media for Penton, left the company soon after. He’s now at Aspire Media.

Much more after the jump.

Jim Ogle, who was VP of finance for Penton, also went back to ABRY and is now the CFO at Cygnus Business Media.

Andrea Persily, previously COO, left in July 2007. I don’t currently know where she is, and a cursory Google search turned up nothing.

David Blansfield left his position as VP of the design engineering group, one of Penton’s most important, to be the new president F+W’s magazine division, again ABRY.

– During a big reorg this January, Bob Moraczewski and Margaret Pederson both left. They had been SVP and president of exhibitions, respectively. At the same time, legal counsel, Bob Feinberg, left the company (I’m not sure what impact this last one would have, if any).

– Most recently, Eric Lundberg, who had come from ALM (another Wasserstein property) to be Penton’s CFO in the wake of Ogle’s departure, rejoined ALM.

– And, lastly (if a bit unfairly), almost throughout the time when Penton and Prism merged and when I left min in February, I heard constant rumors of publisher/associate publisher/EIC level people leaving the company. There were a few higher profile editorial promotions in that time that I heard of. And this makes sense, as when Penton and Prism were merged, there were many competing titles and overlapping positions that weren’t just back office: Editors, publishers, art directors. And some of these people now had redundant and overlapping jobs. Some of them had to go, but were the right ones chosen to stay? And did the ones who left then go to the competition? Let me stress, again, that I didn’t hear about too many of these in detail — they were just rumors. You can judge what that means for yourself, judging the quality of rumors that I might have heard, what you yourself heard, and the propensity of many rumors to be not completely true — at best. But the above high-profile departures are enough to make a dent, no?

The fact is, this business is still all about the people. Creativity, relationship — this is what content and publishing are made of. If you want to run some sort of goofy, bullshit business then, fine, yeah, pretty much everyone is replaceable. But if you want to win, to build something that you and everyone you work with can be proud of, then people matter.

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3 Responses to “One Reason Behind Penton’s Current Woes: Managers Are Actually Idiots”

  1. susan w. Says:

    Who are you? I would like to know the source of this blog. I am a Penton employee and consider the source of what I read before validating or invalidating it. Mergers typically involve a lot of musical chairs. The only name that I know personally, Moraczewski, was slated to retire for a long time and I will miss him terribly, but it is not related to the merger. Thanks.

  2. Jeremy Says:

    My name is Jeremy Greenfield. I was the editor of min’s b2b for almost two years. I reported fairly extensively on many of the people moves above at minonline.com, which I was also the editor of from its relaunch in the spring of 2007 until I left the company in February 2008. Just go to minonline.com and search any of those names, and you’ll find the articles I wrote.

    I agree with you, mergers do typically involve a lot of musical chairs. What I’m saying is that a lot of key players that were responsible for Penton’s turnaround are no longer there, and that perhaps that is one of the reasons the company has struggled since. I’m sure there are myriad others, in addition to areas in the company where fantastic progress has been made. Just one man’s opinion.

  3. Penton Ad Page Woes « Says:

    […] Ad Page Woes As we talked about last week, Penton Media — like so many other trade media companies right now — is having some […]

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