Cirrus CEO Jeremy Knibbs and COO Peter Smal to depart

jeremy knibbs

Out: Knibbs

In: King

In: King

The boss of one of Australia’s largest B2B publishers has resigned and the company’s chief operating officer is also departing.

Cirrus Media boss Jeremy Knibbs told staff in a memo he disagreed with the company’s board over its future direction – and the board had opted for “a change of leadership”.

Since Cirrus – formerly the Australian arm of Reed Business Information – was bought from Reed Elsevier 18 months ago, the publisher has been repositioning itself as a “full service B2B content marketing agency”. The company is now mostly owned by private equity firm Catalyst.

Cirrus titles include Australian Doctor, Travel Weekly, Money Management and media industry title B&T.

Knibbs – who was at the helm of the publisher for more than 12 years – will be replaced by John King, the CEO of British company Trader Media.

According to B&T, the axing of COO Peter Smal comes as his role was made redundant.

And Knibbs said to B&T of his own departure: “I had been in increasing disagreement with the Board on how to take the business forward and I was getting tired. I’ve worked pretty hard to make changes that have brought the business new momentum, and I want to see that accelerated and the businesses continue to develop.”

In a memo to staff, Knibbs warned them that the company “is not out of the woods”.

He wrote: ”

The exits come less than a week after the company announced the departure of events chief Jason Hulme.

Knibbs’ departure email to staff:

Dear all,

A few months ago I found myself considering the values I believe Cirrus should adopt given the challenges we face in the rapidly changing structural landscape of media. I thought I’d test a few for myself to see how they felt. These values were; ‘embrace change and ambiguity’, ‘make things happen’, ‘always try to find the fun in things’; and finally, ‘be very comfortable with the reasons you are here’.

It wasn’t long until I realized I was becoming uncomfortable with the reasons I was here. I was also becoming fatigued and struggling from time to time in finding the fun in things.

In addition, over the last 6 months I have had a reasonable level of disagreement with the Board on the strategy for how we to take the Cirrus business forward, in particular in determining the priorities and the rate of change that’s required. So, we have respectfully “agreed to disagree”.

As a result of the above, the Board has concluded that a change of leadership is in the best interests of the Company. In the circumstances, I agree.

On July 7 2014, I will step down as CEO of the business and hand over to someone who I think will bring new energy, fresh perspective and outstanding skills and experience to the job at hand. That person is John King.

Cirrus is fortunate to have secured the services of John. He is widely recognized as leading one of the world’s most successful transitions from print to digital publishing, taking the UK based Trader Media Group from a predominantly print based business, to an organization with over 95% digital revenues, which exceed A$400m.

John has extensive experience in digital strategy and execution, online lead generation, digital product development, online directories, mergers and acquisitions, and importantly, working effectively with shareholders (including private equity) to significantly enhance business value, and in doing so materially improved the career prospects of the company’s employees. His experience spans Australia, the UK, Europe and North America.

I have met with John – he is especially well suited to the task at hand at Cirrus. It is personally comforting to know that I have been replaced by someone of such capability, who brings highly relevant experience and a strong track record to the Company.

It is with regret that I am also announcing that Peter Smal will be leaving the business in the coming weeks as a result of changes that are taking place which are devolving more capability in product and development into the business units. This along with some other changes around how we manage technology will soon see Peter’s role disappear.

Peter is the best IT project manager and PMO person I have ever had the pleasure to work with. He has managed some extremely difficult technology transitions for the business in the last few years and has been a stalwart in helping us manage technology builds in key acquisitions like Medical Media and integrating others like Medical Observer and FST. He will be missed as a warm and calm presence among the senior management team.

By the time John commences on July 7, the Board, Peter and I will have done a lot to get him up to speed with Cirrus, its key assets, strategies, clients, people, opportunities and challenges. I hope you will join me in welcoming John to the business and engage with him quickly so he can affect a smooth changeover.

I plan to get out of John’s way immediately and let him get on with it. I will of course, remain keenly interested in how the business performs moving forward. I have also agreed with the Board that I will make myself available to provide any help I can in medium term.

I hope you each take the time to pause for a brief moment, and reflect on the many significant things we have collectively achieved in a couple of very difficult years in the media industry. This hard work has certainly given Cirrus a ‘ticket to play’ in a fascinating emerging ecosystem of global digital distribution and direct-to-customer enabling technology. Nice work. But, clearly Cirrus is not out of the woods. Not many media organizations are. So file that thought, get your head into gear and try a bit harder on my behalf, to ‘embrace change and make things happen’.

I have been very privileged to work with so many talented and creative people at Cirrus and I know you will be collectively and individually successful. I’m so sure of this, a point further galvanized by the appointment of John, that I have chosen to retain a substantial portion of my shares in the Company.

Although we have not always seen eye to eye, my confidence in the future of Cirrus extends to the Board. Our current board members are among the more talented, lateral and determined business professionals I have worked with.

You can look forward to more hard decisions, hard work and re-strategising, probably at even greater speed. It’s a great business with significant untapped potential, a talented group of people, and an outstanding new leader. You’ve definitely got an interesting future.

Thank you again for your support in my time leading Cirrus as CEO.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.