After nine years, Forbes.com CEO Jim Spanfeller is out, the company will announce today.
He’s leaving to set-up his own media management company.
DailyFinance broke the story.
Like a lot of executives leading media companies these days, Jim’s legacy would look a lot better if he’d left Forbes before last Fall’s financial collapse.
If he had, Jim would have been able to point to how much he grew Forbes.com’s traffic (a lot) and revenues (almost enough) and say nothing more.
Instead, Jim has to say things like what he told PaidContent about Forbes.com’s current state:
“A large part of the metrics around success have been hampered by the economic downtown and the secular change in media.”
That kind of hedging will leave Jim’s legacy at Forbes in doubt and he knows it.
“I think there will be lots of different angles on how people try to interpret it,” Jim told PaidContent.
The problem for Jim’s legacy is that there were very high expectations for his tenure.
In August 2006, Elevation Partners bought a 40% stake in Forbes for ~$400 million on the promise that Forbes.com would stand-in for Forbes’s declining print business. But while the print business has declined as promised — ad pages at Forbes were down 17% last year and were down 19% this year through May — revenue from Forbes.com — somewhere between $70 million and $80 million — has stopped growing.
So the company’s entered a cost-cutting phase. PaidContent reports:
Back in May, Roger McNamee, co-founder of Elevation Partners, stepped down from the magazine company’s board, ceding the role to Bret Pearlman, who is based in NYC and reputed to be an aggressive cost-cutter. The company has already been fairly aggressive on reining in costs since the financial meltdown last fall. In addition to completing the merger of its online and print editorial operations in January, which left 19 staffers laid off, it shuttered its auto site and gutted the ForbesTraveler staff. In March, Forbes said it would lay off another 50 employees on top of the 60 jobs cut since the fall.
In a memo to employees, Steve Forbes, the president and CEO, tried to dispell any doubts about Jim’s legacy. Read it here:
To: All Hands
From Steve Forbes
July 16, 2009
Jim Spanfeller, President and CEO of Forbes.com has decided to step down from leading our website after nine years. In the entrepreneurial spirit that Forbes has always championed, Jim will be setting up his own media management company.
Describing his future plans Jim said, “The world of media has changed rapidly in the past 10 years and the velocity of the change promises only to increase going forward. I’ve had a great run at Forbes and have been deeply involved in the breakthroughs and transformations between traditional and digital media. Now I see a huge opportunity to have my own media management business that will help other traditional media companies make the most of their enormous prospects in digital venues, taking all I have learned here in the past decade and applying on a wider horizon.
Forbes.com has truly been a truly wonderful ride and I am deeply in debt to the Forbes family for letting me be a part of it.”
Jim has done a monumental job of bringing Forbes.com to the lead position in business websites, and secured Forbes.com as the must visit site for not only global business leaders but also anyone interested in the finest business reporting and analysis available. At present Forbes.com has 18 million unique visitors a month.
Along the way, Jim has overseen the development and growth of Forbes Digital, which includes Forbes.com, ForbesTraveler.com, Investopedia.com, RealClearPolitics.com, RealClearMarkets.com, Real Clear Sports, and Forbes Business and Finance Blog Network, which together reach 40 million unique visitors a month.
This immense growth on the digital side of the business was spearheaded, pursed, and led by Jim with enormous success. The digital world is still uncharted with few rules, and Jim’s intellect, creativity, and business acumen helped bring us our number one position. For this the Forbes family is very grateful and we wish him all the success in his future plans.
Since Elevation Partners partnered with Forbes three years ago, Jim has worked very closely with them on the growth and development and vision for Forbes.com. Commenting on Jim’s departure, Roger McNamee of Elevation said, “Jim did a fantastic job leading Forbes.com. In an era when competitors feared it, Jim embraced and evangelized the internet, with huge benefits to Forbes and its audiences. We are grateful for his contributions over the past nine years.”
Jim will be staying through a transition period at least through labour Day.
Please join me and my brothers in wishing Jim all the best in the future, which he deserves.
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