An outsider suddenly pole vaults onto the Gannett Management Committee, to a newly created position with a mandate to shake things up. The executive is the youngest in the powerful 11-member group, taking a seat alongside CEO Craig Dubow, plus the heads of the newspaper and broadcasting divisions.
Soon, however, the new executive meets resistance within the hide-bound company. Fearing change, the Old Guard pushes back in a classic turf battle that challenges the executive's mandate. They skirmish over plans to erect paywalls. Having initially backed the executive, Dubow wavers, then withdraws his support. Barely two years after taking the job, the executive quits.
"I was incredibly frustrated by their lack of decision-making,'' he says later in a published interview.
That executive, of course, was Chief Digital Officer Chris Saridakis, who left Gannett a year ago.
Now, it's Maryam Banikarim's turn, as GCI's just-named chief marketing officer. Like Saridakis, she's been made a senior vice president in a new position on the Gannett Management Committee. Yet, after Saridakis' experience, what can we expect for Banikarim?
Similar, and not
Saridakis was 39 when he was promoted to digital chief in 2008. He'd been CEO of PointRoll, a company GCI had bought just five years after it was launched. An entrepreneur and start-up investor, Saridakis came from a culture of small, nimble companies that challenge conventional wisdom, and reward risk-taking.
Banikarim, too, is a relatively young outsider (she's 42), from NBC Universal, where she was senior vice president of integrated sales marketing.
However, unlike Saridakis, Banikarim comes from Big Corporate America, where she spent the past eight years. Indeed, she's already navigated two other media giants with longstanding, more traditional cultures: NBC, which traces its history to the 1926 formation of Radio Corporation of America. And Univision Communications, the Spanish language TV channel started in 1955. Banikarim also owned and managed a marketing services consulting firm.
Given these different backgrounds, it's easier to imagine her deflecting the inevitable pushback she'll get from GCI's entrenched divisions and their executives. Announcing Banikarim's appointment, COO Gracia Martore said in a statement today: "Maryam's creativity, entrepreneurial spirit, and ability to make things happen will help us continue to drive growth across the company."
It's hardly surprising Banikarim sounds undaunted. After all, this is a woman whose family fled Iran for Paris after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, when she was 11 years old. "This is an incredibly exciting time for all of us in the media business," she said in the statement, "and being part of a team committed to paving the way forward is a once in a lifetime opportunity."
Time for directors to act
This is no cakewalk, however. Dubow, 56, made much of Saridakis when the technologist joined the Gannett Management Committee in January 2008, calling him "a visionary and an innovator, as well as a smart businessman" who would "use his talent and ability to move rapidly in further developing Gannett into a digital powerhouse.''
Was he too smart? Did he move too rapidly? We don't know for certain; without a shred of explanation, GCI buried his departure in a regulatory filing a year ago. He hasn't been replaced.
This time, with Banikarim, Gannett's historically weak board of directors must watch what happens closely. In particular, Director Scott McCune should play a big role, given his background: He is director of integrated marketing for Coca-Cola, a consumer brand giant with plenty of turf battles of its own.
With revenue still weak, and competitors surging ahead, GCI has only so many leadership opportunities left.