Soon after the world's most famous cartoonist ended his daily "Peanuts" strip, syndication's most famous executive is partially stepping down.
He's John McMeel, who co-founded Universal Press Syndicate in 1970 and helped build it into one of the nation's top-three feature distributors with homegrown properties such as "Doonesbury," "Cathy," "Calvin and Hobbes," and "For Better or For Worse," and acquired offerings such as "Garfield," "The Far Side," and "Dear Abby."
"After 30 years as president, it's time for a change," said McMeel, 63, who leaves that syndicate post Feb. 10 but will remain chairman and president of the Andrews McMeel Universal (AMU) parent company.
The new syndicate president will be Robert Duffy, 54, who's moving up from vice president of sales and director of new media. Also, Lee Salem, 53, is being promoted from vice president and editorial director to executive vice president and editor of the syndicate.
McMeel said "change is good" and "we have great leadership" in Duffy and Salem. He added that he may take "a few more breaks," but will still work full time doing such things as strategic planning and seeking more synergies between AMU's divisions. "I'm not retiring," McMeel said.
And while Duffy will head the syndicate, "I'll offer an opinion now and then," continued McMeel, who said he still loves working with newspapers and creators. "The syndication business has changed a lot over the years, but there's still nothing like it."
Duffy's reaction to becoming president? "Obviously, I have a very difficult act to follow, but I'm thrilled," he said.
His plans for the syndicate? "I wouldn't anticipate any sea changes," replied Duffy, who joined Universal as sales manager in 1976 - two years after Salem arrived as assistant editor.
Salem agreed that Universal will not move in a radically different direction, but said some changes are inevitable in any organization. One possible development: AMU's Universal New Media division, which develops and distributes content to online newspapers and Web sites, may soon spin off into a separate company with a separate management structure.
Salem will be the first to serve as Universal's executive vice president and editor since the syndicate's other co-founder, Jim Andrews, died in 1980. "I learned a lot from Jim, and having the same title is quite an honor and task to fulfill," said Salem, who added that McMeel and AMU Vice Chairman Kathleen Andrews (Jim's widow) have also been "terrific mentors. …