Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Merge CEO Leaves To Run Tribune Publishing

Is it me? Is it something I said?

I keep having to break in new CEO's at Merge Healthcare, and AMICAS before that.

Back in the AMICAS days, I apparently chased out Hamid Tabatabaie. Then Peter McClennen. Then Steve Kahane. Then Merge came on board, and I thought I had a keeper with Justin Dearborn. But alas, he too has seen the light.

I'm kidding, of course, about me having much of anything to do with anything at Merge, but it is true that Justin Dearborn is leaving Merge to become the CEO of Tribune Publishing. From the Chicago Tribune, one of the papers TP manages, comes this article, dateline yesterday:

Three weeks after welcoming Michael Ferro as the largest shareholder and nonexecutive chairman of Tribune Publishing, Jack Griffin is out as CEO.

Griffin, who has guided Tribune Publishing since its August 2014 spinoff, has been replaced by technology executive and longtime Ferro associate Justin Dearborn, the Chicago-based newspaper company confirmed Tuesday.

Dearborn, 46, had been CEO of Merge Healthcare, a Ferro-controlled medical technology company that was acquired by IBM in October.

"Although this is a different medium than my last technology company, it has the same challenge on how to create the highest value for our content," Dearborn said in the news release.

Michael Ferro, as my readers know, bought the scraps of Merge years ago, and then purchased AMICAS to give the reborn company a working PACS.

Tribune Publishing owns the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and other major newspapers. When Ferro's acquisition was announced, Griffin called Ferro "a tremendous admirer of our brands at the Tribune … so it's a winning combination for our company."


Dearborn, who has no media experience, takes the helm of the legacy newspaper company as it struggles to reverse years of industrywide revenue declines and transition to a digital-first medium. He has a long track record with Ferro, the two having worked together on Internet software company Click Commerce, investment firm Merrick Ventures and most recently Merge Healthcare, a Chicago-based medical software company that was sold to IBM for about $1 billion, including the assumption of nearly $198 million in debt, according to Dealogic.

In June 2008, Merrick Ventures bought a controlling stake in Merge, which had been reeling from an earlier accounting fraud scandal, for $20 million, including a $15 million loan. Dearborn was installed as Merge CEO the following month.

Although Merge didn't turn a yearly profit under Ferro's and Dearborn's leadership, the development of an artificial intelligence initiative to analyze medical diagnostic records caught IBM's eye last year, leading to the sale of the company.

Merrick's 23.5 percent stake in Merge was valued at nearly $190 million in the IBM transaction.

Congratulations to Mr. Dearborn. He is incredibly capable, and I'm sure Tribune will thrive under his leadership. Perhaps with his connections, we will see Watson trained to read the various newspapers and provide commentary. That would be about the only column I would pay to read.

In the meantime, I'm waiting to find out something very important to us customers...Who will take the helm at Merge?

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