Embarcadero Media President and CEO Bill Johnson, who started a small weekly newspaper in 1979 and grew it into a digital and print publishing company known for its integrity, innovation and community involvement, will retire later this year, he announced to his employees last week. The plan, he said, has been in the works for more than two years in order to ensure a smooth transition.
Johnson, who started the Palo Alto Weekly in 1979 when he was 26 and went on to acquire the Almanac in 1993, said he will remain in his role as chairman of Embarcadero Media's board of directors and president of the Embarcadero Media Foundation, as well as stay involved with some of the company's big-picture initiatives.
His successor as president and CEO will be Adam Dawes, a native of Palo Alto who has lived on the Peninsula his entire life. Dawes has had a lifelong interest in the media and the value of quality information and joins Embarcadero after a 20+ year career in the technology industry, the last 14 developing products for Google. In his final role, he led a series of local news projects for the Google News Initiative, a $300 million program that works with media organizations large and small across the globe, to help them adapt their business models and strategies to journalism's digital future.
Johnson recruited Dawes to join Embarcadero Media's board of directors almost 10 years ago and said Dawes has worked during that time with him and the company's senior management team to develop strategies for expanding the company's digital publishing activities.
"Adam is about as perfect a fit for the company and communities we serve as one could imagine," Johnson said. "He is thoroughly familiar with the Peninsula, our business, the unique culture of our organization, and embraces our mission of service to the community through accurate, insightful and thoughtful news coverage. He also brings a wealth of experience building successful digital products, which are at the center of our strategy for future sustainability."
"This is a unique region in the world," Dawes said, "with such a rich diversity of people, businesses and cultural institutions, all situated amidst tremendous natural beauty. Quality news and information are essential for healthy communities and I'm tremendously excited to join Embarcadero and to help connect and serve this community through our publications."
Over Johnson's four decades at the helm of Embarcadero Media, he's led the company through sea-changes that have upended the media industry and have caused thousands of news organizations across the U.S. to fold: the advent of the Internet, changing revenue trends as advertising shifted from print to digital, recessions, the rise of social media and the ubiquitous adoption of mobile technology.
Those challenges notwithstanding, the company has grown to include multiple publications and websites on both the Peninsula and in the East Bay's Tri-Valley, including two local news websites launched last October, the Redwood City Pulse and Livermore Vine. In addition to The Almanac, the company produces Palo Alto Online, the online Mountain View Voice, the Pleasanton Weekly and DanvilleSanRamon.com. It also publishes The Six Fifty, an online magazine and newsletter that covers life, food and culture on the Peninsula and Silicon Valley.
Johnson founded Embarcadero Media by putting together a group of 15 local families who shared his belief that the community needed and would support an independent, thoughtful newspaper that covered local issues in-depth, kept readers informed about local government, the schools and the interesting people living here and served as a place for community discussion and debate. Today, many of these original shareholders have passed their stock on to children or grandchildren, increasing the number of shareholders to 30, including Johnson.
Johnson said there would be no change in the ownership of the company and that shareholders have a deep commitment to the importance of local journalism and local ownership, a belief that Dawes strongly shares.
Dawes, 52, has lived in San Carlos since 2005 with his wife and their two children (ages 11 and 13). His desire to serve the community was inspired by his parents. They moved to Palo Alto in 1963 and fell in love with the region. His father, Dexter, became an early shareholder in Embarcadero Media and served on the board of directors for 13 years. He also served on numerous local nonprofit and government boards including Channing House, Foothill College and City of Palo Alto Utilities. His mother, Jean, served a long tenure on the board of the Palo Alto Housing Corporation and helped start Pursuit of Excellence, a nonprofit group that provides financial assistance and other support to underserved students who want to go to college. Both parents were recipients, at different times, of the Lifetimes of Achievement Award given out annually by Avenidas.
Dawes got his first exposure to journalism as one of the editors-in-chief of the Palo Alto High School newspaper, the Campanile. He earned his bachelor's degree in Visual and Environmental Studies from Harvard and worked briefly making documentary films.
Dawes was also drawn to ways that the just-emerging Internet and World Wide Web could be used to bring people together and strengthen communities and democracy. He joined the newly formed Smart Valley, a nonprofit organization that was part of Joint Venture: Silicon Valley, with a mission to harness the power of the Internet to improve education, government and other public-serving initiatives.
Next, Dawes earned his MBA from Stanford Business School in the late '90s and then worked with several early stage startups before joining Google in 2008.
Johnson said Dawes will start in September and that he expects to complete the transition by the end of the year.