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John Veronis, who brokered major media transactions, dies at 93

  • >> Richard Sandomir, The New York Times
    Published: 2021-07-18 17:26:42 BdST

John Veronis at lunch in New York, Dec 11, 1975. The New York Times, and the launch of Psychology Today, died at his home in Manhattan on June 24, 2021. He was 93.

John Veronis, an ebullient investment banker whose boutique firm specialised in major media deals, including Rupert Murdoch’s acquisition of the company that owned TV Guide, and who had earlier helped launch Psychology Today, died June 24 at his home in New York. He was 93.

His wife, Lauren, confirmed the death.

Veronis had spent 30 years in the magazine business — he started at Popular Science in the late 1940s and helped make Psychology Today a quick success in 1967 — when he discovered his facility for putting buyers and sellers together. In one instance, Irvin Borowsky, a publisher of profitable trade magazines, asked for his advice about Cue magazine, an entertainment and dining guide, which had been losing money.

“He couldn’t see it clearly,” Veronis said in a 2007 interview with the Drucker Institute, founded by Peter Drucker, an expert on modern management. He told his client that Cue would continue to bleed red ink and endanger his stronger magazines.

“Why hold onto Cue?” Veronis recalled asking, to which Borowsky replied, “My wife loves it.”

“Get rid of her or it,” Veronis told him, he recalled in “A Meaningful Life,” a memoir written exclusively for his family.

He earned $400,000 for arranging Cue’s sale to Murdoch in 1980. He was surprised to hear from a friend that he had done the work of an investment banker.

“I couldn’t believe this was what investment banking was about,” he told the Drucker Institute. “All I did was sell experience and knowledge.”

In 1981, Veronis brought that experience and knowledge to Veronis, Suhler & Associates, which he started with John Suhler, a former president of the CBS Publishing Group. Their timing was good: Media deals were taking off.

The firm quickly became a leader in brokering the sales of magazines, a thriving medium that had not yet been fragmented by the internet.

Over the next decade, the firm arranged the sale of Diamandis Communications, which published Women’s Day and Car and Driver, to Hachette Publications for $712 million; Details, a fashion magazine, to Condé Nast Publications; and Walter Annenberg’s Triangle Publications, owner of TV Guide and Seventeen, to Murdoch’s News Corp. for $3 billion.

“John Veronis was very much the entrepreneur and outward-facing partner, with many key relationships with the important media leaders and owners from around the world,” said Jeffrey Stevenson, managing partner of what is now Veronis Suhler Stevenson, which is no longer involved in media but invests in information, business services, health care and education industries.

The firm was also involved in the sale of Capital Cities’ television station in Buffalo, New York, and the acquisition of two TV stations by the Telemundo Group, the operator of Spanish-language networks that is now part of NBCUniversal.

In 1990, Veronis helped broker the merger of two nascent satellite services in Britain — Murdoch’s Sky Broadcasting and British Satellite Broadcasting, which had accumulated total losses of more than $1.5 billion in a short time — by easing tensions between Murdoch and Peter Davis, CEO of Reed International, a key British Satellite shareholder.

“The two men were not just fierce competitors,” Veronis wrote in his memoir, “they despised each other.”

During dinner at Claridge’s in London, Veronis wrote, he advised the rivals that if they continued to compete, “they were doomed to fail.”

The merger, announced in November 1990, created British Sky Broadcasting, also known as BSkyB. Veronis earned $1 million from Murdoch — a cut-rate fee, Lauren Veronis said in a phone interview, “because Rupert was busted.”

The company came to be called Sky, with operations across Europe. It was acquired by Comcast in 2018 for $39 billion.

John James Veronis was born March 6, 1928, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and grew up in Easton, Pennsylvania. He was one of six children of Greek immigrants; his father, Nicholas, had been a writer but took jobs in a fur factory and in diners in the United States; his mother, Angeliki (Eftimakis) Veronis, was a homemaker.

After graduating from Lafayette College in Easton, John headed to Manhattan, where he was hired at Popular Science and soon became its advertising director. He moved to Field & Stream, then to The American Home, a monthly magazine where he achieved a major breakthrough for the publication by bringing in advertising from Procter & Gamble. He rose to publisher. Several years after the magazine was acquired by Curtis Publishing, he became president of the company’s magazine division.

After leaving Curtis, he spent nearly two years at the Interpublic Group of Companies, an advertising giant, where he conducted research on what motivated consumers. His findings revealed, among other things, the potential market for a magazine about psychology.

Coincidentally, in 1967, Nicolas Charney was trying to launch Psychology Today. Charney, who had a doctorate in biology and biopsychology and knew Veronis’ brother George, a prominent oceanographer, asked Veronis for help. Veronis guided him to business and circulation experts; once the magazine began publication, Charney contacted him again.

“We had a tiger by the tail, but our debts were growing,” Charney recalled by phone. “So I said: ‘Let’s join forces. I’ll give you half my stock and we’ll move forward as equal partners.’ He joined, and within two weeks, he raised $1 million.”

They built a business that included a popular textbook, games and educational films, then sold the company in 1971 to the Boise Cascade Corp. for an exchange of stock valued at $21.5 million. (Psychology Today lists its current circulation at about 250,000.)

Veronis and Charney were less successful in their acquisition that year of Saturday Review for a reported $5.5 million; after splitting the venerable magazine into four separate monthlies, they filed for bankruptcy in 1973.

They had one more venture together: Book Digest, a magazine filled with excerpts from current bestsellers, which started in 1974 and was sold to Dow Jones four years later for about $10 million.

Three years later, encouraged by the investment advice he was giving others, Veronis started his firm with Suhler.

After Veronis retired in 2010, he devoted some of his time to helping his son Nicholas with his financial technology company, iCapital Network, and his stepson, Harlan Peltz, with his mortgage lender, iBorrow.

In addition to his wife, his son Nicholas and his stepson, Veronis is survived by his daughter, Jane Veronis; another son, John; his stepdaughters, Perri Peltz and Alexandra Peltz Gelb; 14 grandchildren; his sister, Mary Thompson; and his brother, Alexander. His marriage to Sarah Shepard ended in divorce.

Before Veronis’ first meeting with Murdoch and Davis to discuss the British satellite merger in 1990, he and his wife knocked on doors in London. If a home had a satellite dish, they asked if the resident was satisfied with the service. At homes without dishes, they asked residents if they would consider subscribing to Sky or British Satellite.

It was the type of market research that Veronis had done in his early days in magazines — and it gave him important information to bring to his discussions with Murdoch and Davis.

Veronis learned that some subscribers didn’t know the differences in quality between the two satellite services, and that others were wary of the steep cost of a dish.

“They were confused,” Lauren Veronis said, “but John had clarity.”