David J. Pecker became Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of American Media, Inc. (AMI) in May 1999, when along with Evercore Partners, he purchased the company. Today, AMI is the leading publisher of celebrity and health & fitness magazines including Star, National Enquirer, Shape and Men’s Fitness.
Following 9/11 on October 2001, American Media became the first U.S. company to be targeted by bio-terrorists using anthrax, and one of its employees the first casualty of this new kind of war. Despite being evacuated from its corporate headquarters, Mr. Pecker moved quickly to relocate the company’s operations and all AMI titles were published on schedule.
In November of 2002, Mr. Pecker and Evercore acquired Weider Publications Inc. the leading publisher of health & fitness magazines, including category leader Shape and Men’s Fitness. It was the latest acquisition in a 20-year career that has seen Mr. Pecker complete more than $4 Billion in magazine transactions. In April 2003, Mr. Pecker participated in the $1.5 billion recapitalization of AMI led by Evercore and Thomas H. Lee Partners.
Most recently, Mr. Pecker has been working through a transaction in which AMI will be acquired by Chatham Asset Management, LLC and Omega Partnership, L.P. at an enterprise value of $527 million. This deal would also provide AMI with significant liquidity allowing for the continued investment in digital that the company has strategically been making over the past two years.
How did you get into the media industry?
After I graduated Pace University in 1972, I joined Price Waterhouse.. After 8 years at Price Waterhouse, I was recruited to CBS magazines and rose to Controller and CFO in 5 years. I engineered a $650mm leveraged buyout with the President of CBS Magazines, Peter Diamandis, and 2 other executives. This was the first LBO in the publishing industry. Within one year, we sold 8 magazines for $300mm and the balance of the company to Hachette Filipacchi Magazines for $725mm, France’s largest publisher. Our financial sponsor Prudential Seaport Capital recorded a $300mm profit on this transaction. The 2 owners of Hachette were Daniel Filipacchi and Jean Luc Lagardere. They mentored me for 2 years in every aspect of magazine publishing, from ad sales to production to editorial. Consequently, they asked me to become Chairman, President and CEO of Hachette magazines in the US in 1991. I followed through, launching Elle and Elle Décor magazines which are now owned by Hearst Publishing. I also partnered with John F. Kennedy Jr and was the Co-Founder of George, which was one of the biggest consumer magazine launches of its time.
What partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have helped American Media reach such high circulation?
In 1998, after completing my contract with Hachette Filipacchi magazines, I partnered with Roger Altman of Evercore and purchased AMI for $850mm then we purchased the Globe for $100mm a strategic move that gave AMI 100% control over the celebrity category. Four years later, I acquired the Weider health & fitness titles, which included Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle & Fitness for $350mm. This was a transformative occurrence for the company, broadening it from a tabloid media group to a consumer magazine publisher. Two years ago, we began a major investment in digital, as part of a strategy to reposition ourselves from a print publisher to a content provider. At the same time, we evolved Shape and Men’s Fitness from health & fitness magazines to active lifestyle brands.
What are your biggest successes and failures as CEO and how have you learned from them?
When AMI became the first American company to be victimized by bio-terrorism in 2001, I am proud to say that we never missed publishing a single one of our 7 weekly titles. The AMI staff worked under unbelievably austere conditions to get the job done, something, unfortunately, the mainstream media never recognized. I think our ability to remain profitable during even the worst economic times is also a major achievement, and the result of my having the best management team in the business working with me. In addition, our ROS margins never fell below 40%.
In terms of failures, I don’t dwell on them but I have learned that when running a company, you should always hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
What advice would you give to an aspiring media entrepreneur?
Don’t be afraid to take risks if you believe in what you’re doing. If I had listened to everyone who told me no, I’d still be working for someone else.
Who is your role model, business and personal?
I have many. Larry Tisch was an early mentor. Ari Emanuel and Donald Trump are close friends who I admire. Ron Perelman and Ron Burkle are business associates I hold in the highest regard.
If you don’t love what you do, find another line of work.
Favorite travel destination?
If there were one food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
Broiled salmon and a glass of a great Chardonnay
What websites are most visited on your browser?
Owning the leading brands in both celebrity and health & fitness, I naturally visit the sites that are direct competitors – TMZ, People, Perez, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, etc. Besides that, the NY Times, NY Post, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and other news and business sites.
What's next for American Media and David Pecker?
We will be implementing phase 2 of our digital plan later this year. AMI wisely sat on the sidelines while our competitors invested hundreds of millions dollars into digital without seeing a return. Even though we began our real digital initiative only 2 years ago, our sites are as technically robust as any other, perhaps more so, and all are profitable.
Over the next 3 years, we plan to aggressively build on this by further liquefying our exceptional content and unique brands across all of today’s media platforms and those yet to come.
In April 2004, Mr. Pecker re-launched Star as a 100-page glossy, the first time a tabloid was ever successfully converted to magazine format.
From 2004 to the present, Mr. Pecker oversaw unprecedented growth in AMI’s advertising, with paging for its titles up 19% over the five year period (including a 58% increase for Star) while industry totals declined 8.7% for the same period. During this time, Shape became the #1 title in the Women’s Active Lifestyle Category, Men’s Fitness was successfully re-launched, and digital platforms were developed for all the company’s brands.
In February 2009, AMI revitalized its capital structure through a transaction with its bondholders, including Angelo, Gordon & Company and Avenue Capital Management LLC, that reduced its debt by $227 million in exchange for 95% ownership of the company. Mr. Pecker was asked to remain in his roles as Chairman, President and CEO and agreed.
Before acquiring American Media, Inc. Mr. Pecker was President and Chief Executive Officer of Hachette Filipacchi Magazines. He was appointed Chief Executive Officer in 1992, after being named President of Hachette Magazines, Inc. in September 1991. Prior to September 1990, Mr. Pecker had served as Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer for Hachette Magazines, Inc. formerly Diamandis Communications Inc.
Mr. Pecker holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Pace University and attended Pace University Graduate School of Business. In May of 1998, the university awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Commercial Science. Mr. Pecker was elected in 2009 as a Trustee of the Pace University Board of Trustees.