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Focused style has Lacy on track for Meredith’s top job


Steve Lacy’s career has traveled straight and fast like an arrow since he was a teen-ager, and it’s expected to hit a very important target in about 18 months.

Bill Kerr has told investors that he plans to retire in June 2006 as chairman and chief executive officer of Meredith Corp. If company tradition holds, Lacy will ascend from his current post as president and chief operating officer to the top spot.

It’s almost a predictable step for a man who early on set his eye on a disciplined, quantifiable future as a certified public accountant, finished college early, has devoted his spare time to community service activities, travels constantly for the company – and sleeps only about four hours a night.


When Lacy, 50, presides as chair of the Dowling High School Foundation meetings, “We stay on point, we keep moving, it’s business,” said Jerry Deegan, president of the school. “We don’t meander and get off the topic. He’s real good at seeing the two or three most important things and chasing them.”

“He’s a born leader,” said Martha Willits, who worked with Lacy when she was the leader of United Way of Central Iowa and he was the board chair. “He’s very efficient, he wants results on every issue, and he keeps you on task.”

That kind of focus seems to run through his history.

Lacy grew up in Fairview, Mo., a suburb of Kansas City, and attended Kansas State University – where he now serves as a trustee. “I had it all laid out, knew what I was going to take, and I never dropped one class,” Lacy said.

He picked up his bachelor’s degree in accounting, then his master’s degree in accounting. When he finished a semester ahead of the usual schedule, he got a job with Deloitte & Touche in Kansas City.

In 1981, the company transferred him to Des Moines, where he has lived ever since. He moved on to become vice president, chief financial officer and general manager with Commtron Corp.; president of Johnson & Higgins/Kirke-Van Orsdel Inc.; and joined Meredith in 1998 as vice president and CFO.

“I learned in the fraternity house that control of the checkbook is power,” Lacy said. “When you come in as the finance person, you learn everything about the company.”


These days, Lacy is shouldering two jobs. In addition to his president’s duties, he’s heading up Meredith’s broadcasting division, the most problematic part of the company in recent years.

Lacy stepped in while Meredith conducts a nationwide search to replace Kevin O’Brien, who was terminated last October for violations of the company’s Equal Employment Opportunity policies. O’Brien was in the job only since November 2001; when he came on board, he immediately changed news directors at every Meredith station and all but two general managers.

“We lost our way for a period of time” in the broadcasting division, Lacy said. “We made some missteps in senior leadership.”

He’s also making some adjustments in the Special Interest Publications division, where the number of titles has exploded in recent years. The list numbered about 30 when Kerr took over as chairman and now stands at about 160. Lacy plans to pare it just slightly to 150.

At last fall’s investors meeting, Lacy told his audience that Meredith sells about 20 million copies of SIP publications annually, at an average cover price of $5.99. “Most of our competitors have walked away from it,” he said.

The big item on the 2005 publishing agenda, however, is the planned launch of a Spanish-language magazine targeted at Hispanic women. “It needs to play well to our core competencies of home and family,” Lacy said. “In the Hispanic culture, there’s a strong desire to own your home.” However, “In their countries of origin, these women didn’t subscribe to magazines,” complicating matters even for a company that boasts a database of 60 million names.

Meredith also remains interested in acquiring existing magazines that would complement its lineup. For example, “Gruner & Jahr owns some properties that would be a wonderful fit,” Lacy said. “We’ve been public about our interest in those properties.”


Meeting with advertisers and others keeps Lacy on the road for three days in a typical week. A company Lear jet can get him to New York City in two hours, which he notes is less than the commuting time for some of the people who live there.

“I don’t think any working parent sees their children as much as they would like,” Lacy said. “Really hard work and long hours, I think that’s a given; but there’s a tremendous misconception that business people are workaholics and disengaged in the community. My friends are very engaged, almost without exception, and committed to being part of the fabric of the community.”

Lacy and his wife, Cathryn, have two children: Paul, 17, and Mary, 14, both of whom participate in school sports.

“Even in his absence, he’s very up-to-date on what happens,” said Dowling’s Deegan. “He works at scheduling so he can be there for the most important things for his kids. [The Lacys] are not on the big entertainment circle, but kids come over to their house and hang around because it’s a comfortable place to be.”

That house is a big one south of Grand, befitting Lacy’s financial status. For Meredith’s 2004 fiscal year, he received a $550,000 salary and a $700,000 bonus.

Willits, who lives in the same neighborhood, said she sometimes starts a walk at 5:45 a.m. only to meet Steve and Cathy Lacy, returning from their morning stroll.

“He’s seemingly tireless,” Willits said.

Lacy retreats to a home on Clear Lake for part of every summer with his family and indulges in one serious hobby: buying, selling and collecting antique automobiles.

But he doesn’t admit to any particular yearning for a life away from meetings and suits.

“When I retire,” Lacy said, “I’ll probably see if some kind soul like Charlie Edwards [dean of Drake University’s College of Business and Public Administration} will let me teach business classes.”

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