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Entrepreneur planning unsolicited bid for Globe

Wellesley man has group of investors

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By Robert Gavin
Globe Staff / October 21, 2010

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A Wellesley entrepreneur said yesterday he has put together a group of investors and management specialists who will try to buy The Boston Globe from its longtime owner, The New York Times Co.

Aaron Kushner, who founded and sold an Internet firm, and later bought Marian Heath Greeting Cards Inc. of Wareham, said his group will soon make an unsolicited offer to the Times Co. He declined to disclose the amount of the offer but said the group, which numbers more than a dozen, expects to raise enough money to make an attractive bid to buy the Globe and other holdings in the Times Co.’s New England Media Group, including Boston.com and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

The Times Co.’s 17 percent stake in the Boston Red Sox and affiliated sport properties would not be included in the offer.

“We are putting together the business model of taking what is an important community organization, and reverse the cycle and have it growing,’’ Kushner, 37, said an interview. “If the Globe was achieving even half its potential, it would be of much greater import and impact.’’

The Times Co. put the Globe up for sale last year, and three potential buyers emerged: one group led by Stephen Taylor, a former Globe executive and a member of the family that sold the paper to the Times Co.; another local group led by former advertising executive Jack Connors and Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca; and Plati num Equity, a Beverly Hills, Calif., investment firm that owns the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Only two offers — Taylor’s and Platinum’s — were selected by the Times Co. for a final round of bidding. But the Times Co. pulled the Globe off the market last fall, evidently dissatisfied with the bids and declaring that the paper’s financial conditions had improved.

Yesterday Times Co. spokeswoman Abbe Serphos said: “We do not comment on rumors of acquisitions or divestitures. The Boston Globe is an important part of The New York Times Company. The Globe has made excellent progress and is on solid financial footing. Its continued digital and print progress signals a strong future.’’

The Times Co. bought the Globe for $1.1 billion in 1993 and the Telegram & Gazette for $296 million in 2000. The T&G is the largest daily in central Massachusetts.

Globe publisher Christopher M. Mayer, in a memo to employees last night, said the Times Co. has not been approached by Kushner’s group, known as 2100 Trust. Mayer also reiterated the Globe’s financial performance has improved.

“While we can’t stop others from having interest in our business, I’m viewing any potential outside interest in the Globe as a reaffirmation that we’re doing all the right things and moving the business forward,’’ Mayer wrote. “We have a solid strategy. Let’s stay focused on our success.’’

Kushner acknowledged the Times Co. has not put the Globe up for sale. Still, his spokesman said, Kushner has been working on making the offer for a year, meeting with dozens of potential investors. Kushner said that he hopes that his group’s commitment to maintaining the paper’s high standards of journalism would lead the Times Co. to engage in talks. Kushner declined to name the members of the group but said they include people with experience in the newspaper industry.

He also said they would invest significantly in the Globe’s print and online operations, starting with newsroom.

“We know the Times Co. cares as deeply about journalism as we do,’’ Kushner said. “We think we have the ability to grow the print side and the digital side.’’

Kushner, a graduate of Stanford University, began his career at the Boston Consulting Group, a management consulting firm. He founded the Internet company MyMove, which allowed people to do the paperwork involved in changing addresses online, and sold it in 1999 to Imagitas, a marketing services company.

In 2002, Kushner, whose family had been in the greeting card business, bought Marian Heath. His former partner at Marian, Daniel J. Steever, said in an interview that Kushner was an innovator who helped the one-time family business grow substantially. Under Kushner, Marian Heath has made several acquisitions.

Kushner introduced cards that talk and play music, and a card made entirely from recycled materials that was manufactured and printed with power from renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. He left as Marian Heath’s chief executive last year but still holds a stake, his spokesman said.

“He saw that the greeting card business could use innovation,’’ said Steever, who added that he is not involved in the Globe bid. “He probably sees that there are innovative things that could be done to help the newspaper industry, and, as a newspaper reader, I’m rooting for someone to help.’’

The newspaper industry has undergone dramatic, and sometimes traumatic, changes as it makes the transition from print to digital format — changes that were accelerated by the recent recession. Several newspaper companies have filed for bankruptcy protection, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Tribune Co. of Chicago, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Last year, the Times Co. threatened to shutter the Globe because of steep financial losses but ultimately wrung enough concessions from Globe unions — as well as making cuts in management pay and benefits — to stabilize the paper’s finances. The Globe also consolidated printing operations and raised subscription prices to generate more revenue. The Times Co. ended last year with a profit.

During the recent third quarter, total revenue at the New England Media Group fell 6.2 percent to $102.8 million, a sharp improvement from double-digit declines the group suffered last year.

Officials from the Globe unions could not be reached for comment last night.

Kushner praised the Globe’s management for doing a “fantastic, amazing job’’ under difficult circumstances, and said he believes local ownership would provide a platform for new growth.

Kushner and his wife, Rochelle, have three children, including a daughter born Tuesday. The couple over the past few years have made thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to both Democrats and Republicans, as well as to Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Independent. Kushner contributed to the campaigns for President Obama and US Representative Niki Tsongas, a Lowell Democrat, as well as to those of Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and former senator Norm Coleman, Republican of Minnesota.

Robert Gavin can be reached at rgavin@globe.com. Todd Wallack, Beth Healey, Steven Syre, and Erin Ailworth of the Globe staff contributed to this report.