Deal seals Lenfest ownership of Inquirer

H.F. "Gerry " Linfest is now sole owner of the parent company for the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com.
H.F. "Gerry " Linfest is now sole owner of the parent company for the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 20, 2014

Now comes the hard part.

Philadelphia businessman and philanthropist H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest said he bought out his remaining partner in Interstate General Media on Wednesday, taking the helm alone as he tries to navigate a successful passage for the region's dominant news company.

"Of all the things I've done, I can't think of anything more important," Lenfest said of his purchase of The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com. "If we can put the operations of the newspapers in good hands, with responsible leadership and a good board of directors, then I think I will have accomplished a lot for Philadelphia."

Top of the task list is to find a new publisher and replacements in at least a half-dozen key positions that have opened as a result of resignations since the paper's parent company was sold at auction May 27.

Lenfest became the sole owner with a deal to buy out Drew Katz, the son of his former partner, the late Lewis Katz.

Lenfest, in an interview, declined to say how much he paid, but did not challenge the accuracy of a report that the price was $16 million. That would match the original investment by Lewis Katz, who, with Lenfest and four other businessmen, bought the properties and formed Interstate General Media Holdings L.L.C. in 2012.

Lenfest and Lewis Katz bought out their partners at auction May 27 when they agreed to pay $88 million for IGM. Four days later, Katz was killed in a private-plane crash, and his share of the company reverted to his son, who sold it to Lenfest.

"We have not had time to grieve not only the loss of our father but also the ongoing pain of losing our mother less than six months ago," Katz said in a statement Wednesday. "I am making this decision that is not only in the best interest of IGM, but also in the best interest of our family."

Lenfest said he continued "to mourn the loss of Lewis, but his proud legacy will continue through my dedication to preserving these publications for many generations."

The change in ownership was received cautiously by the Newspaper Guild, which represents many IGM advertising and editorial employees.

"While the Guild hoped Drew Katz would stay involved, we completely understand that this is not a time when he could give a commitment to learning about a new business," Guild president Howard Gensler said in a statement. "Now that the ownership issue is settled, we look forward to working with Mr. Lenfest and a new publisher to end the drama and make the company great."

Lenfest, 84, said the media company would be placed under the umbrella of a legal entity that would outlast him.

Although he will remain the majority and controlling owner, Lenfest said, five others have agreed to invest $1 million each in the company.

He declined to identify all the investors until their participation was formalized. He acknowledged one was William A. Graham IV, chairman of the Graham Co., an insurance brokerage.

Lenfest, who is serving as acting publisher, said he was now focused on finding a new publisher for the papers and website. "We are looking at candidates," he said. "I've contacted two already, and we are setting up interviews."

He said former publisher Brian P. Tierney would not be a candidate. Tierney, who has his own public relations and advertising agency, is temporarily serving as an advertising consultant to Lenfest.

"Brian has a very successful business, and he is not giving up his business to come to a permanent position with The Inquirer," Lenfest said.

Lenfest said he did not expect to be a hands-on manager, but rather would turn the company over to the next publisher to run. "I will be in as needed without interfering too much in the operations," he said.

Lenfest acknowledged he was in some ways an accidental owner of the paper, given that he originally invested simply at the behest of Katz and others.

He said, however, he now saw his ownership as an extension of his commitment to regional philanthropy.

"I did not intend this. It just happened," he said. "But I feel good about it."


chepp@phillynews.com215-854-2594

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