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Janet Robinson is retiring as president and CEO of The New York Times Company (NYSE: NYT) at the end of the month, the company announced after the market closed Thursday. Arthur Sulzberger Jr., NYTCo chairman and publisher of The New York Times, will serve as interim CEO until the company finds a replacement. Sulzberger announced the move in a staff memo accompanied by a message from Robinson; both are published in full below. It also was reported by the NYT‘s Media Decoder.
Robinson will be paid $4.5 million next year as a consultant, according to an SEC filing; in return, she has agreed to various restrictions including a two-year non-compete. Her total compensation for 2010 was $4.3 million; 76 percent of the eligible amount.
Robinson, 61, has been with the company for 28 years, the last seven as CEO. She is credited with pushing the company to launch the highly profitable national edition of the NYT. As CEO, Robinson managed the high-profile publishing company through some of its most difficult years against an economic backdrop that seldom favored newspapers — overseeing major staff cutbacks and often rancorous union; the building of the new mid-Manhattan office tower and its sale and leaseback when the company needed cash and to shave costs; challenges from outside investors; a loan from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helu; the acquisition of About.com and its recent trials; and more.
During her tenure, digital moved from a rounding error to make up more than a quarter of the company’s revenue. But she also was in charge as the stock dropped nearly 80 percent, to close at $7.40 today compared with $35.42 when she was appointed CEO on Dec, 27, 2004.
While the news is a shock — some senior execs found out only in recent days — the timing also makes sense in more than one respect. Robinson has seen the company through the planning and implementation of digital pay strategies at its flagship, the Boston Globe and other papers. The seemingly successful NYT meter is nearing its first anniversary, with the major investment and planning phases accomplished. With that well under way, it is about as good a time as any to leave a job that always has another crisis around the corner — and where the prospects for any substantial improvements are slim.
Robinson is also leaving the board, which met today. Presiding director Ellen R. Marram stressed continuity in her statement: “While we initiate the search and assess the characteristics for The New York Times Company’s next CEO, the Company will continue to execute on the strategy to transform our business via a combination of prudent fiscal management, a strong focus on ongoing digital initiatives and pursuit of new growth opportunities.”
Digital head Martin Nisenholtz is retiring this month as well; he told Robinson and others of his plans to leave earlier this year but his resignation was only made public in early November.
Below, the company’s stock price over the past seven years. It peaked at $40.67 on December 30, 2010, and saw its lowest price at $3.51 on February 19, 2009. It closed December 15, 2011 at $7.53:
It was 1996 when our head of advertising at The New York Times came to me and said that the paper (which is all we were in those long-ago days) could dramatically increase its profitability and stature if it truly became a national newspaper. While one could find copies of The Times in major cities back then, it was basically the first edition with the feel of a metro paper and no significant amount of national advertising.
With Janet’s vision and input, we were able to convince the then corporate management to make the investment necessary and began to reposition The Times as a truly national newspaper – one that now has 58% of weekday and 62% of Sunday subscribers located outside of the NY market.
I note this critical part of our history because Janet has informed us that she has decided to retire at the end of the year after more than 28 successful years with us. Under her leadership at the paper, and later our entire Company, we have successfully transitioned to a multiplatform organization, and we have found new ways to reach new audiences, monetize content and stabilize our balance sheet during an uneven economy. We did this without compromising the quality of the news and information we provide our readers.
The decision to create a national edition changed the fortunes for the Company. It took huge courage and vision on Janet’s part to create and to successfully implement our national edition. We will always be in her debt for her leadership and her commitment to the long-term success of our Company.
We will begin a search-both internally and externally-for our next CEO. In the meantime, I will serve as CEO.
A message to all of you from Janet is attached. Her contributions to The New York Times Company have been significant and we want to thank her for 28 years of dedicated commitment and service. Please join me in wishing Janet a very healthy and happy future.
It is with mixed emotions that I write to let you know that I am retiring from The New York Times Company at the end of the month. The Company has been my home for 28 years and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with so many outstanding professionals over the years. At the same time, the Company’s course is set and I am excited by new opportunities that await me.
Obviously, the last few years have been tough as, together, we have navigated one of the most difficult periods in publishing history. It is probably an understatement to say that transitioning from a traditional print journalism model to the digital world has been an enormous challenge. Fortunately, thanks to a tremendous amount of hard work by many people, The New York Times Company is succeeding. Our balance sheet is strong, and we have a solid business plan and successful digital strategy in place that should serve the Company well for many years into the future. I know that I am leaving the Company in the best position possible.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the Sulzberger family and the Board of Directors for the opportunities they have afforded me. I also would especially like to thank all of my colleagues for their unstinting support and hard work over the years. I will be forever appreciative.
Best wishes to all for a happy and healthy holiday season.