Weather Channel Picks Ex-AOL Exec To Run Co.

After its $3.5 billion leveraged buyout last year and a long search for a top executive, The Weather Channel Companies has named Michael J. Kelly to the post of president and CEO.

Kelly, the former president of AOL Media Networks, takes the reigns from interim CEO Lisa Gersh, who serves as full-time president of strategic initiatives at NBC Universal. The Blackstone Group, Bain Capital and NBC Universal acquired The Weather Channel last September from Landmark Communications.

However, less than a week after the deal closed, Debora Wilson, a 14-year veteran of the Weather Channel who had been company’s president and CEO at the time of the buyout, announced her plans to leave.

With a mixed background in both the corporate and private equity worlds, Kelly appears to be an ideal pick for the post. Since 2007, he has served as an advisor to buyout shop Veronis Suhler Stevenson, where he helped the New York firm identify and assess investment opportunities in the digital media market. Prior to his work with Veronis Suhler Stevenson, Kelly served a three-year stint as president of AOL Media Networks, where he was involved with several strategic acquisitions.

Nevertheless, news of Kelly’s appointment to The Weather Channel’s top position came as a surprise to some. Since Wilson left her post in February, it was widely reported that Bill Bolster, a former executive of financial news network CNBC, was the front-runner for the position. His chances, however, were reportedly blown when he demanded use of a private jet for commuting purposes as part of his compensation package.

The Weather Channel did not return requests for comment.

In his new post, Kelly will be responsible for the strategic direction and operations of The Weather Channel, which of late has been making efforts to build up its presence on the Internet. According to The Weather Channel, its main Web site,, is the third most-visited news and information brand with 41.5 million monthly unique visitors, while The Weather Channel Mobile is the largest content provider on mobile devices, such as cell phones and PDAs. The namesake television product, meanwhile, is the second most distributed cable network, available in 99 million homes, according to the company.

“This is a remarkable and exciting opportunity to be part of a powerful media brand which delivers consumers the information they want where and when they want it while offering advertisers cutting edge cross-platform solutions,” Kelly said in a prepared statement. “This multi-platform success will fuel our growth.”

At the time of its acquisition last year, Weather Channel had a total debt to EBITDA ratio of 6.7:1, according to Thomson Reuters LPC. Debt financing for the LBO included a $1.08 billion term loan-B due September 2015 and a $150 million revolving line of credit due September 2014, both led by Deutsche Bank, and both priced at LIBOR + 400 basis points.