John Blake: Ziff-Davis

Ziff-Davis, a billion-dollar media, market research and information services company, is a pioneer and leader in special-interest B2B and B2C technology trade publishing.

The Challenge

A once robust and highly profitable publishing division of the company fell victim to a dramatic and unforeseen market shift, which created enormous organizational disruption and the rapid decline of the business unit’s operating performance. The operational headwinds included navigating the turbulence of a changing market, intense competition, the marginalization of the segment in which the division competed, and declining profitability.

My Role

Senior Vice President

As a 10 year senior executive at Ziff-Davis and proven growth leader, I was selected to oversee the restructuring and turnaround of a 200-person, $100 million division of two portfolio brands that had previously operated as independent (and competing) business units inside the company. Both brands were experiencing the pressure of a decaying market, intense competition, and a sharp decline in revenue and profitability.

The Work
  • Operating perspective: I consolidated two portfolio brands into a single business unit, rationalized redundant expenses through the restructuring, and reduced cost of goods sold (COGS) by leveraging shared centralized corporate resources.
  • Positioning perspective: I rebranded and repositioned the business unit to serve an emerging, highly coveted market segment, launched new, highly profitable brand extensions, and introduced an innovative merchandising and pricing program to recapture category leadership and market share.
  • Strategic perspective: I used a SWOT analysis and market assessment to inform an exit strategy aimed at rapidly restoring profitability and market share to improve our negotiating posture, value, and exit optionality.
The Outcome

Over the course of the two-year assignment, I effectively rescued and restored the business, achieving all but one of the strategic objectives. Revenue grew 12 percent, market share improved 21 percent, and EBITDA increased 16 percent, leading to a successful formation of a strategic joint venture with a chief rival. 

While the vision and strategy defined the path forward, it was the clarity of the plan and the outstanding alignment of the team in their purpose-driven determination to salvage two storied brands (Apple Inc. and our publishing group) that led to a positive outcome and successful exit.

—John Blake, SVP