Vulcan has hired as its new president and chief operating officer Barbara Bennett, who most recently led a 75-newspaper company trying to adapt to the harsh economics of digital publishing.
Bennett, who starts on Sept. 22, oversaw New York-based Digital First Media’s financial operations from April 2013 until last month. She previously was chief financial officer at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and at Discovery Communications, parent company of the Discovery Channel.
Vulcan CEO Jody Allen said Bennett has the right mix of experience for coordinating the Seattle-based conglomerate’s wide-ranging businesses.
“We want to make sure all those groups are working together as effectively and as efficiently as possible,” Allen said in an interview Tuesday.
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Started in 1986 by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Vulcan has about 600 employees worldwide, with interests in real estate, private-equity investment, philanthropy, technology and media.
Vulcan also assists Allen with overseeing the Portland Trailblazers, Seattle Seahawks and a partial stake in the Seattle Sounders.
Bennett will oversee Vulcan’s real-estate and capital-investment arms, as well as its internal business units, Jody Allen said.
The new position will free up Paul and Jody Allen, his sister, to focus more of their time on Vulcan initiatives they’re interested in. The groups working on technology, media and entertainment and philanthropy will work directly with them, she said.
The philanthropy group will be tackling more climate and ocean initiatives as well as “deeper education initiatives that we didn’t have the structure to address before,” she said.
Vulcan has never had an executive in-house with expertise running a media company, she said.
“The experience she has will directly contribute to some of the initiatives that we’re hoping to develop,” said Allen, who declined to offer specifics.
Bennett got her undergraduate degree at Vanderbilt University and finished executive programs at Harvard Business School and Yale University.
From 1990 to 2007, Bennett worked in a series of executive positions helping build the parent company of the Discovery Channel from a single channel to a media company in 170 countries and more than 1 billion subscribers.
At the EPA, which she was appointed to by President Obama in 2009, she oversaw the agency’s budget, financial reporting and strategic planning.
When she joined Digital First Media in April 2013, the New York City company was managing MediaNews Group and the Journal Register Company. By year’s end, they were merged into Digital First.
In an interview, Bennett said she helped decide where Digital First made more than $100 million in cuts across the enterprise. In April, the company announced it was shutting down Project Thunderdome, one of the news industry’s most high-profile experiments to create efficiencies through centralizing the production of national and international stories and standardizing publishing workflows across newsrooms. Thunderdome officially closed July 1.
“What you learn from trying anything new is when it’s time to look at other options,” Bennett said. “It made sense to shutter Thunderdome, as hard as the conversation and decision was.”
Joining Vulcan, she said, appealed to her because it ties together her background in media businesses and working for organizations focused on the environment.
She’ll be leaving her home in northern Virginia for Seattle soon.
“We’re looking forward to being Seahawks fans,” she said. “It was a great game at the Super Bowl this year, and we’re looking forward to a repeat this year.”