Newly designated Washington Post Co. CFO Hal S. Jones knows education — the Kaplan Inc. side of the diversified publisher’s shop, where he’s been since 1997 — but he concedes that the embattled world of newspaper finance is going to have to be an acquired specialty.
“To tell you the truth, I haven’t had a lot of time to think about it yet,” says Jones, who as the current CEO of Kaplan Professional has until the end of the year to transition that position to his successor. In an interview, he tells CFO.com, “Hopefully, I can bring the knowledge I’ve gained at Kaplan to the company as a whole. But at this company, businesses tend to be autonomous; it’s a challenge to keep all the balls in the air.”
If he can bring in that Kaplan knowledge, it could be good news for Washington Post Co. Kaplan overall has grown into its largest segment, in the latest quarter contributing $543.3 million of revenues, more than half the total. And while the newspaper division’s revenue ($219.2 million) fell 6 percent from the year-earlier period, at Kaplan revenues rose 14 percent. Operating income? It surged 36 percent at Kaplan, to $46.7 million, while in newspaper publishing the quarter’s operating income plunged from $15.9 million to $1.2 million.
As corporate senior vice president-finance and CFO, Jones will be replacing the retiring John B. Morse Jr., one of the rarest of finance chiefs because of his 19 years of service in that position at Post Co. That means Morse has seen a lot of change.
Overall revenues were $1.4 billion annually when he joined Post Co. in 1989. Now, with greatly expanded cable and educational divisions, in the U.S. and abroad, revenues are headed toward the $5-billion level. And the operation that gives Post Co. its name is an ever smaller percentage of the mix.
“Most of the acquisitions in recent years at the Washington Post Co. have been in the educational sector,” notes Jones. At the beginning of 2007 he moved with Kaplan Professional back to Washington from London, where he had been COO of Kaplan International. But in all his 11 Kaplan years he had been involved with both external and internal growth. “While I was working in London, I led a lot of the acquisitions outside the U.S.,” while few were being done on the newspaper side, he recalls.
From 1997 to 2000, Jones had served as CFO of Kaplan Inc.
As for future growth, it’s early for Jones to predict what shape it will take at Washington Post Co. “Internal and external: it will be a combination of both,” he says. Will the education sector — encompassing higher education, test preparation, professional, and corporate education programs — keep growing? “It’s likely to grow at a faster pace,” he replies. “But that doesn’t mean that the newspaper or media sector won’t grow.”
Indeed, he allows that he needs to learn more about the special problems of newspapers — even grand organs like the major daily of the nation’s capital, where staffers won a remarkable six Pulitzer Prizes this April. The problems range from declining readership and advertising revenues to a difficulty in finding an online model that works profitably. Recently, the Post newspaper was reported in the Wall Street Journal to be having major difficulties with an local Internet news project called LoudounExtra.com. At this point, says Jones, from his Kaplan position, that story is about all he knows of the situation.
With a half-year to go before he takes over as Post Co. CFO, “the first thing I need to do is work with my successor” at Kaplan Professional, he says.
As CFO come year-end, he’ll also be working closely with Wallace R. Cooney, who moves from corporate controller to vice president-finance and chief accounting officer. He’s a newspaper veteran, having served from 1997 to 2001 at Gannett Co.
Says Post Co. chairman and CEO Donald E. Graham, “Hal has a tremendous breadth of experience in many parts of the Post Co., both domestically and internationally, that will serve us well as our company continues to expand and diversify.”