Nielsen names Mitch Barns as next CEO

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NielsenEffective 1/1, Nielsen says Barns, its current President/Global Client Service, will succeed David Calhoun as CEO. He’s a 28-year marketing vet who has spent the last 16 years at Nielsen building its core businesses globally, regionally and in the U.S. Calhoun will become Executive Chairman of the Board, at which time Nielsen’s current Chairman, James Kilts, will step down as Chairman, but will remain a board member.


“Nielsen is successfully implementing its global strategy, and the time is right to name the next leader to take the company to its next phase of growth,” said Calhoun. “Mitch’s strong track record at the helm of a number of key Nielsen business units around the world – combined with his vision and commitment to our strategic plan – puts the company on solid footing for continued global expansion and value creation,” he added. “I will continue to remain invested in Mitch’s success in my new role.”

“I am honored by this opportunity to serve Nielsen as its Chief Executive Officer, and I am thankful for the Board’s vote of confidence,” said Barns. “Throughout my 16 years at this company, I’ve been privileged to work side-by-side with talented leaders and associates in Nielsen businesses across the world. I look forward to continuing our work together to anticipate client needs with ongoing innovation and expand our footprint in developing markets, while consistently delivering growth and enhancing shareholder value,” he added.

Barns joined Nielsen in 1997 and currently oversees $5.5 billion in revenue and leading the efforts of Nielsen’s Watch and Buy client service teams worldwide. Earlier, Barns served as President of Nielsen’s U.S. television ratings business, where he oversaw the transformation of the unit’s client service model and architected the expansion and enhancement of its local ratings service. He also served as President, Greater China – where he led the transition to a fast-growing, stand-alone region – as well as global President of Nielsen’s BASES and Analytic Consulting businesses, which have become the core of the company’s growing insights services. Barns began his career at Procter & Gamble, where he spent 12 years in marketing research and brand management.

Calhoun has served as Nielsen’s CEO since joining the Company in August 2006, following a 26-year career with GE. He oversaw the transformation of Nielsen from a private company to a publicly traded corporation listed on the S&P 500. In his new role as Executive Chairman, Calhoun will remain actively engaged in the business, providing counsel to Barns and other executives into 2015. He will remain a substantial owner of Nielsen equity purchased and earned by him while CEO, said Nielsen in a release.

RBR-TVBR observation: Calhoun was brought on as CEO to get the IPO done in early 2011, as has he was able to move things in the public arena. When he came on board, investors such as Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Thomas H. Lee Partners, Blackstone Group, Carlyle Group and others were at the time likely getting impatient to get their money’s worth. That was his mission.

As you remember, Dutch publishing company VNU acquired Nielsen Media Research in 1999. In 2006, VNU was acquired by a group of six private equity firms (some named above). In the same year, the group hired Calhoun. He renamed VNU as The Nielsen Company in 2007.

Now we are seeing complete changing of the guard at Nielsen from the top down. Susan Whiting already announced her retirement. She had taken the ball from VNU, did the bond tour and much of the preparatory work. She deserves a lot of the credit for taking them into the public arena as well.

Nielsen is now handing the torch over slowly but surely without disrupting the marketplace. They are going to fully integrate their offerings and take the company to the next level—in the smartest way possible.

If you look back over the past few years at the companies Nielsen has acquired/launched–NM Incite, Marketing Analytics, The Demand Institute, Vizu and now Arbitron—the pieces of this technology-rich puzzle are now in place and aimed at the future of 360-degree media measurement and research.


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Carl has been with RBR-TVBR since 1997 and is currently Managing Director/Senior Editor. Residing in Northern Virginia, he covers the business of broadcasting, advertising, programming, new media and engineering. He’s also done a great deal of interviews for the company and handles our ever-growing stable of bylined columnists.