2 min read

Primedia Business sold to Wasserstein

It's over.
And yet little has changed.
Primedia Business has been sold to yet another New York-based buyout firm. The seller, of course, was KKR. When I was an executive at Primedia Business, it was the folks at KKR who were in charge. And I found them to be -- almost entirely -- a repulsive group. KKR's chosen would gather in the executive dining room and complain whenever Primedia Business' workforce seemed unwilling to sacrifice more wages and time to further enrich KKR's investors. My time at Primedia Business was an endless series of meetings with people who genuinely disliked each other. And it was clear to me that KKR set that contemptuous tone.
Primedia Business' new owner is Wasserstein & Co., a private equity firm that also owns "The Deal." I know nothing about Wasserstein. And I would urge everyone at Primedia Business to try and maintain a positive attitude during these next few weeks. Perhaps Wasserstein will turn out to be a more skilled leader than KKR.
But I'll confess that I have little faith. Readers of this blog know that I dislike the management style of Wall Street. And I am saddened each time a B2B publisher is purchased by a private equity fund or leveraged buyout firm.
I prefer a different style of owner  -- dedicated more to the product, the workers and the customers than to money.
It was years ago that I first came across the work of management guru W. Edwards Deming. Deming believed the purpose of a business isn't to make money. Rather, the purpose of a business is to stay in business so it can provide jobs. In Deming's model, profit is an intermediate goal, not a final purpose. In other words, Deming believed a company owed more to its stakeholders than to its shareholders. Deming's work has fallen from favor in recent years -- pushed to the side by stock booms, junk bonds, IPOs, LBOs and EBITDA.
I'd like to think that Wasserstein sees more in Primedia Business than cash flow. But a look at Wasserstein's Web site does little to encourage me. There's not a word about employees; there's no mention of products; there's no discussion about running a business. But there's plenty of talk about managing investments.  
FULL DISCLOSURE: I'm the former vice president for online content at Primedia Business. Also, during this past weekend I took on a small, short-term consulting arrangement with Primedia Business.

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