In the six weeks since Ninan Chacko joined PR Newswire (PRN) as its new CEO, the 44-year-old father of three has kept a relentless schedule in order to immerse himself in the company and industry. His dogged efforts were necessary, as he readily admits to knowing little about PRN prior to his hiring.
Chacko spent the previous two decades in the travel sector, with his prominent focus being technology. Most recently, he was chief commercial officer of Worldspan, now part of Travelport. Prior to that, he spent 13-plus years with Sabre Holdings, a supplier of distribution and tech solutions to the travel industry, and its former owner, AMR Corp.
When PRWeek met with him at PRN's lower Manhattan offices, it was Chacko's first day back in the office after a three-week, multi-continent tour of the company's various offices and partners. He had been to Beijing, London, Washington, Brazil, and Cleveland, among other places. In those weeks, he spent the time “absorbing” and “peppering” staff with questions.
Chacko's background has a similarly global feel. Malaysian-born, he attended primary school in Bangalore, India, boarding school in Eng-land, and college in the US. Chacko completed a master's in aerospace engineering at the University of Kansas, primarily because he “wanted to fly planes.” After logging about 20 hours of flying, which he found “enormously boring,” he went to work doing research for NASA.
Technology's diverse applications fascinate Chacko. He sees tremendous potential in the future of the newswire, particularly because of the rapidly evolving media space.
“I wouldn't really think of PRN, and its peers, as having leveraged technology greatly as yet,” he says. “Tech is a core part of [its] business, but [has it] leveraged it as much as... Web 3.0 entities have? I don't think so. I look at that as an opportunity.”
The new CEO says PRN can also play a bigger role to help sort out the information overload occurring today, as well as facilitate a more “two-way interactive dialogue,” for its customers, including between an agency and reporter.
“That is amongst the things [PRN]... should be good at,” Chacko adds. “Those are pure tech challenges... to distill [information] down.”
And as PR and media mature in non-US markets, Chacko believes PRN will reap the benefits.
“We will continue to take products and services we've established a following for in the [US] and... leverage them in markets like Asia,” he says. As technology rapidly evolves, PRN will adjust its model, “effectively localizing” products.
As March ends, so does Chacko's transition period with outgoing CEO Charles Gregson. Angela Scalpello, PRN's SVP of HR, notes that “there's real excitement” that Chacko will “drive a lot of change.
“He's really creating a voice for himself within the organization very quickly,” she says.
As an outsider, that voice isn't too shy to note the challenges at hand. He points to the power of PRN's “venerable brand name,” as well as its people and global footprint. However, coming from the travel sector, he also realizes the threat of low-cost, often nimble rivals.
“It forces the legacy players, which I think PRN is... to essentially get better at what they do,” he says.
CEO, PR Newswire
SVP, chief commercial officer, Worldspan LP
SVP, Sabre Holdings