CEO Berner Exits 'Reader's Digest'

Mary-Berner

After four eventful years with the company, Reader's Digest Association President and CEO Mary Berner is leaving the company. She will be succeeded in both top spots by Senior Vice President and CFO Tom Williams. Randall Curran, who was recently appointed to the RDA board of directors, will assume the role of chairman.

Berner took the reins at RDA in March 2007, when the magazine publisher was acquired for $2.8 billion by Ripplewood Holdings, LLC, marking the end of 17 years as a publicly traded company for RDA. She previously served as president of Fairchild Publications, a division of Conde Nast. On taking the leadership role at RDA, she also assumed responsibility for WRC Media and Direct Holdings U.S. Corp., both of which were also owned by Ripplewood.

Prior to buying RDA, Ripplewood had also managed the Time Life brand, previously owned by Time Inc. and the World Almanac.

At the time of the acquisition, RDA's previous CEO, Eric Schrier, touted the advantages of going private, including doing away with the need for "time-consuming public disclosure and shorter-term, quarter-to-quarter pressures..." However, Ripplewood's highly leveraged purchase of RDA did not presage smooth sailing for Berner and company.

After hiring financial consultants specializing in distressed companies, outsourcing IT operations, closing the Spanish-language Selecciones and implementing widespread layoffs, in August 2009 Berner was still forced to take RDA into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after it failed to make a $27 million payment on $1.6 billion of senior secured debt.

Moreover, she scrapped plans for a print magazine produced with mega-church pastor Rick Warren, titled Purpose Driven Connection, after failing to drum up enough interest among readers and advertisers. (The brand remains active online.)

Still, Berner charted a course for growth, in part by tapping into niche markets. In January 2010, as it prepared to exit bankruptcy, RDA unveiled plans for three new media brands: Reverse Diabetes, Walk It Off, and No Fail Weight Loss. (RDA exited bankruptcy in February 2010.)

In April, she created a new role for a "pure-play" digital executive to lead its Reader's Digest Community division. And in December 2010, RDA unveiled plans for another multiplatform brand (including newsstand-only special-interest print publications, a daily e-newsletter and book tie-ins) called Best You, targeting women 35+ with a holistic approach to health and wellness.

Williams, Berner's successor, joined RDA in November 2008. He previously served as executive vice president and CFO for the Affinion Group from 2006-2008. Before that, he served as chief financial officer of AT&T Networks, AT&T Customer Service, AT&T Global Networking Technology Service and AT&T Laboratories.

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