Is Jann Wenner Courting David Carey?

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Making beautiful, profitable music together? Photo: Getty Images, Patrick McMullan

Does Jann Wenner spy an opportunity in Condé Nast's recent struggles? The Rolling Stone owner raised observant eyebrows around the office recently by having David Carey over to Wenner Media HQ for lunch and a tour. Carey is one of Condé's top business-side executives; he was the founding publisher of Portfolio, which shut down last month, and oversees a group that includes Wired and The New Yorker.

Both parties insist the visit was the purest of social occasions. "I've always liked Jann," says Carey. "We grab lunch every few years to catch up on industry trends. Nothing more mysterious."

But a highly placed Wenner insider says the lunch, whatever Carey's perception of it, was intended as part of a courtship dance. "Jann has always had a thing for David," says the source, "and he also wants to get a big heavyweight business guy in there that can take the sales and business side of the operation to the next level."

Until a few weeks ago, that business guy would've been chief marketing officer Gary Armstrong, who ascended to Wenner's right hand after his longtime majordomo, Kent Brownridge, retired (or "retired") in 2005. But Armstrong was let go in April and hasn't been replaced, although COO John Gruber has taken over some of his duties.

Although Carey's long been viewed as one of Condé Nast's brightest business-side talents and the odds-on favorite to succeed CEO Chuck Townsend, it would be logical for him to be thinking about Plan B right about now. Portfolio's costly demise can't be helping his stock, and Wired, although well-regarded editorially, is in a bad way advertising-wise.

On the other hand, the recession has been even less kind to some of Carey's internal rivals. Richard Beckman, another rumored CEO candidate, was recently pulled off the corporate sales operation and placed in charge of the Fairchild Fashion Group — a move widely seen as a demotion. Carey's CEO hopes aren't dead yet — which means that Wenner's dream of poaching him probably is.


Disclosure: The writer of this item was formerly employed by Portfolio.