Fortune magazine sold to Thai businessman Chatchaval Jiaravanon for S$207m

Mr Chatchaval Jiaravanon intends to increase investment in the magazine's digital capabilities, geographic expansion and editorial talent.
Mr Chatchaval Jiaravanon intends to increase investment in the magazine's digital capabilities, geographic expansion and editorial talent.PHOTO: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Fortune magazine, a founding brand of the Time Inc empire that started publishing right after the stock market crash of 1929 and went on to chronicle the rise and fall of the United States' biggest companies, has been sold to a Thai businessman for US$150 million (S$207 million).

Mr Chatchaval Jiaravanon, whose family controls Charoen Pokphand, one of Thailand's largest companies, will acquire Fortune as a personal investment, according to a statement from the magazine's current owner, Meredith Corp.

He intends to increase investment in Fortune's digital capabilities, geographic expansion and editorial talent, the statement said.

Mr Jiaravanon is the second unexpected buyer for a Time Inc title in recent months.

In September, Meredith said it would sell Time magazine to Mr Marc Benioff, the billionaire chief executive of the software company Salesforce, for about US$190 million.

"This was a great outcome," Mr Alan Murray, who had been Time Inc's chief content officer and will become Fortune's chief executive, said in an interview, adding that Mr Jiaravanon "has ambitious goals for the magazine." In the statement announcing the deal, Mr Jiaravanon promised to invest in technology and journalism at Fortune.

Like all magazines, Fortune's print business has declined - ad pages for 2018 are down more than 25 per cent - which prompted the title to focus on other potential areas of growth, specifically digital advertising and conferences. Those businesses now make up about 62 per cent of Fortune's nearly US$100 million in annual revenue, and the magazine makes about US$10 million in profit when not taking into account interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation.

The purchase price and Mr Jiaravanon's willingness to invest in the magazine were key factors in his winning bid, Mr Murray said, although the specific amount of additional investment was not discussed. The magazine is likely to add to its staff and will consider putting a paywall on its website.

Meredith moved quickly after acquiring Time Inc last year to sell the magazines that did not fit into its existing stable: glossies centered around home and lifestyle and geared toward female readers.

The company announced in March that it was seeking a buyer for Fortune, as well as for Time, Money and Sports Illustrated. Although Meredith's decision to sell those titles was widely expected, it nonetheless signaled a further decline of the magazine industry.

Auctioning off the magazines was more complicated than Meredith executives had expected. As a case in point: Mr Benioff was close to buying Fortune before switching his preference to Time when he saw that it was a bigger business. At that point, Meredith had to seek new bidders for Fortune.

Mr Murray, who helped lead the process along with Meredith's banking adviser, Citigroup, said in September, "It was a learning process for me, and these things just take a lot longer than you think they would."

Mr Jiaravanon, 56, who will not play any role in managing the magazine, emerged as a suitor only within the past three weeks, Mr Murray said. Meredith had talked to about a dozen serious buyers for the magazine this year.

The deal was reached Friday evening (Nov 9) in Hong Kong, where Mr Jiaravanon celebrated his acquisition at dinner with Mr Murray.

Fortune, the second title to be hatched by Henry Luce, Time Inc's founder, has won numerous awards over its 88 years. It became known for its in-depth features, which often recast a company's rise or fall as a lively case study.

That a little-known businessman like Mr Jiaravanon would become Fortune's new owner underscores the wildly shifting prospects for the United States' best-known magazines. But that was one of the key reasons for Mr Jiaravanon's interest.

"He loves the brand," Mr Murray said. "And he really has an appetite to invest."

Fortune has not covered Mr Jiaravanon or his family conglomerate, known as CP Group, extensively. The family business is the largest private company in Thailand, with interests department stores, banks, telecommunications companies and other businesses. The company's senior chairman, Dhanin Chearavanont, often tops the list of Thailand's richest people.

Mr Jiaravanon, a graduate of the University of Southern California, also sits on the board of True Corp, a Thai media company with over US$4 billion in revenue.

His ownership of Fortune immediately vaults Mr Jiaravanon onto the world stage, but he did not buy the magazine "for personal glorification," Mr Murray said. "The fact that he's not talking to you is evidence of that."