Richard Karacian has been named CEO of Maison Moderne (the firm that publishes Delano)
Photo: Eric Chenal
Richard Karacian has taken over as CEO of Maison Moderne, succeeding Mike Koedinger on 4 September. After holding positions at international media groups including Altice and Axel Springer, Karacian now has two main challenges before him: continue to grow Luxembourg’s leading independent media firm, and push the company into new directions.
Mr. Karacian, how do you see your new role as CEO of Maison Moderne?
I will not be a CEO who’s only a figurehead. One of my missions is, obviously, to be an ambassador of the company externally, but I generally get involved in day-to-day issues, to be sure that I’m at the heart of the organisation. I rely on my experience to move from one subject to another, and I enjoy such intellectual gymnastics.
Is this type of management characteristic of your leadership approach?
A CEO must place themself at a strategic level without neglecting any operational aspects. They should also keep a continual lookout [across the company], and develop short- and medium-term visions. I don’t pretend to have a long-term vision for our sector, because the current period is marked by a technological tsunami. This is putting traditional media under heavy pressure and forcing companies to continually experiment when they make long-term plans.
How will you manage Maison Moderne given the “technological tsunami”?
My approach to work and the company is structured along two lines. First of all, I place a great deal of importance on respecting employees and on their development. I like people, otherwise I wouldn’t have worked so long in HR. That said, we cannot do business without clients. It’s clear that we sometimes forget that on a day-to-day basis. I really believe in the notion of the client experience; it has to be thought out in a professional manner. So the company, as a content and service provider, has to manage good margins and constantly ensure client satisfaction. This is essential for me and vital to the business.
Even more so in a media landscape where competition has increased with the arrival of digital?
Absolutely. The volatility that readers and clients can demonstrate in digital does not exist anywhere else. If the product is not perfect, we can lose the reader or the client with disconcerting speed. It is necessary to capture their attention and retain them with products that are excellent, both in terms of graphics and technically, while maintaining a launch timeline that’s ahead of the competition. We can’t ignore the notion of time-to-market.
How do you summarise your career?
I am an “all-rounder”. I am a solicitor by training, having studied private law and business law. I stared my career as a solicitor with the consumer rights group UFC-Que Choisir. Then I held HR director and legal director posts at several different groups: Future France, Axel Springer France and Altice Media. Working with so many big outfits allowed me to experiment with different management styles, that at the same time were complementary. I was attracted to the position of HR director because I truly believe the top asset of any company is its human capital, a notion that I prefer over that of human resources. I recently wanted to complement my professional development by doing an executive MBA at HEC Paris and Stanford Graduate School of Business, in San Francisco.
I learned a lot on the ground, but I needed to add some methodology. People who believed in me thought that I had managerial abilities without having the corresponding diploma. So I went to HEC Paris for the certification that I was missing and to deepen my skills and discover other techniques. This intense training broadened my horizon. I had come up in the French media world, and I had known about Belgian media through my experience with Roularta and the German approach at Axel Springer, but HEC allowed me to meet new people, in particular in digital marketing, sales techniques, digital business model transformation... the alumni network allows you to be more efficient by quickly getting answers to your questions and finding the right contacts for your needs.
Did this training reflect your demanding nature?
I am a complex leader, but indeed I am demanding with myself, as well as with my colleagues. I take the time to listen before deciding, because I place a great deal of importance on empowering teams, and to their point of view. I like working in agile mode. On the other hand, the concept of a “good” or “bad” employee is less interesting. I often say that experience is just the name that we give to our mistakes. I apply this principle for myself and I also hope to share it with my staff. My only frame of reference for judging their performance is how they try to understand their clients--and in the case of [our journalists], their readers--and how they endeavour to keep them satisfied.
In an evolving market, continuing education is often at the heart of companies. How do you see this?
It is essential that business leaders support their employees in this domain. But this approach must stem from employees who have proactively matched up their personal wants with the needs of the company. I strongly believe in “tailoring”; I think it’s the future. The 2000s were synonymous with mass consumption. Profitable companies will now be the ones capable of custom tailoring. This applies both for external clients, for internal clients, and for company employees. We need to customer tailor to keep our clients and our talent.
What is your takeaway from your experience in the late 1990s at the startup Progiware, which became Keyrus, an important player in the IT consulting and data world?
It was a timeless experience. We, some friends and I, wanted to be part of the wave that you can also call a bubble. But we surfed with a rather positive result. From this period, I still keep my desire to succeed, to not give up, remain humble, and one observation: you have to put things into perspective and tell yourself that if you’re not having fun, then it’s not worth it.
You’ve just left your position as managing director of the French newspaper Libération. What is your takeaway from this experience?
The 14 months I spent at the newspaper required an exceptional investment due to the financial difficulties it has been facing, although, paradoxically, the media brand is extremely strong. I will always remember the level of engagement of the 130 journalists who worked passionately. Nevertheless, the newspaper is confronting major difficulties owing to, notably, distribution problems, and above all its positioning with a leftist electorate that has profoundly evolved, as was seen with the most recent national elections.
The roadmap that I had was the one leading to stability for the company. To achieve this, I focused on costs, while having the godsend of new revenue from the SFR kiosk, namely the distribution of online newspaper content to SFR [telecommunication services] customers in France. Major progress for Libération.
So you had to constantly oscillate between costs and revenue…
A CEO has to constantly keep a handle on these two pillars. Sometimes it is necessary to put more emphasis on costs because of market challenges, but, usually, it is better to focus on revenue, while naturally keeping control over expenses.
What was your perception of Maison Moderne when you were applying for the CEO position?
Maison Moderne has a great brand, which is its flagship publication: Paperjam.
My primary objective is to safeguard the brand and determine how to generate new revenue with it. Mike Koedinger and the managers at Maison Moderne were visionaries, because they have managed to diversify income under this brand by offering, in addition to content, targeted services. It was very clever. I’ve noted that media outlets in France have taken this approach, but too late. The strength of Maison Moderne is to have had this differentiation from the outset. This state of mind must be maintained, and we have to create barriers to entry so the Paperjam environment is not disrupted.
We will look at how to deepen the customer experience we offer to members of the Paperjam Club with even more personalised services. Additionally, I want our agency to be one of the three touchstones in Luxembourg.
What are your international ambitions?
Maison Moderne’s model can be exported, because, despite its small size, Luxembourg is a magnificent multicultural and multilingual laboratory that is ideal to experiment with consumer behavior.
What exactly is your take on the Luxembourg market?
I’ve arrived in a state of humbleness, a value that I fundamentally believe in. It encourages ongoing reassessment, which is all the more necessary in the times we are living in.
How will you separate roles with the founder of Maison Moderne, Mike Koedinger, who’s become chairman of the company’s board of directors?
That’s one of the first questions we tackled. The decision was clear for both of us: I will lead the teams from the first day. By the way, Mike has taken the intelligent decision to no longer work in our offices. That’s not to say there won’t be a natural transition period for certain matters.
We have divided up strategic roles. I will take care of local development and Mike will lead Maison Moderne’s international ventures. I’m lucky to start my role being able to count on Mike’s network, on his support and that of the members of the management committee and board of directors. This is an extraordinary asset which I intend to take advantage of.