Count changing the C-suite career path among the effects of the movement toward mobile media. Almost daily, senior executives at traditional media companies are telling me they wonder whether the big promotion is worth the wait. There are fewer openings, and by the time they get one, it will require digital experience they were not able to develop. As a result, we are going to see a parade of super-talented executives exiting big media companies for entrepreneurial middle-market companies in the next five years.
They will be attracted to the aggressive, customer-focused and agile nature of the smaller enterprises, where they can make an immediate impact and reap direct returns. The returns can indeed be richer at a $100M to $1B business in turnaround or growth mode – a significant equity stake that can create real wealth, competitive salary and bonus, and control over the elements that govern performance payments.
They will also be attracted to the pure digital focus. Middle-market companies don’t have layers of management and multiple lines of business competing for attention and resources. They don’t have meetings to prepare for meetings and meetings to debrief from the meeting. They don’t focus on the size of each other’s office because nobody as an office. Everyone is working with customers to deliver on a well-articulated strategy.
This movement of executives is already underway.
For example, in August, Antony Young, displaced as CEO of MindShare North America in June, elected to co-lead Media Storm, a media agency network. In July, Ira Rubenstein, former EVP/digital for 20th Century Fox, didn't try to climb back, instead taking the CEO job with a board seat at MeeMee Media. In May,Tom Mockridge left as president of News International to become CEO of Virgin Media. In March, Paul Caine, EVP/sales and heir apparent at Time Inc., left to become CEO of radio syndicator Dial Global, which was bought by Cumulus Media earlier this month.
Several big-company stalwarts had already committed to the middle-market career path.
Mark Rosenthal, former president of MTV and CEO of Interpublic, left a few years back for Spot Runner, Current TV, and now Katz Radio Group, where he took over as CEO in July. Similarly, Greg Coleman left the ranks of Yahoo and AOL in 2010 for the presidencies of The Huffington Post and Criteo; and Adam Bain left the Fox Interactive presidency for CRO of Twitter in 2010. Both men now play critical roles in high-profile IPOs.
As middle-market media companies raise their sights to world-class talent ready for C-Suite roles, they need to do a few things. First, they need to evaluate the key drivers
for their business – product, sales or marketing – and then look for a corresponding functional head of a big company who has P&L experience and is ready and willing to take the leap.
Second, they need to be willing to accept some real growing pains. They are changing the company, not filling a job. On one level, this requires board members or founders to coach a new C-level executive who may not have a full command of all the functions they now direct. On another level, they will need to re-evaluate remaining management, shifting some responsibilities and making key staff upgrades. Some will meet the new higher standard, others won’t.
Bringing big-company executives into middle-market pioneers is good for the media business. It puts corporate leaders closer to innovation, and it balances the inspiration of technology with the ability to scale – something big company executives have significant experience with. It also creates the experience base – executives with both big company and digital experience – that the world’s biggest media companies will tap for C-suite roles going forward.
As a recruiter for senior-level positions, I prioritize executives with an entrepreneurial streak and a “get things done” attitude – which comes from working in more agile companies or the stepchild within a large organization – for any C-suite role. The world’s biggest media companies are already starting to think the same way. Just look at Joe Ripp’s return to Time Inc. as CEO after several years at smaller companies.