Longtime Lee Enterprises CEO Mary E. Junck is leaving that job to become executive chairman, the company announced Thursday. She will be succeeded by Kevin Mowbray, chief operating officer and a former publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Lee’s largest newspaper.
Junck, 68, joined Lee in 1999, and became CEO in 2001. She has served as board chairman of The Associated Press and as a director of the Newspaper Association of America.
The changes will take place in February 2016.
Based in Davenport, Iowa, the publicly-traded Lee has 46 daily papers, most of them mid-sized and concentrated in the West and Midwest. It acquired Pulitzer Inc with the larger Post-Dispatch and Arizona Daily Star in Tucson for roughly $1.5 billion in 2005.
Like McClatchy’s Knight-Ridder acquisition around the same time, the deal has left Lee burdened with debt and high interest payments in the years since as advertising revenues and profits have declined.
Its shares, which traded as high as $35 in 2007, have been down to roughly $1.50 this fall.
With several companies — including Gannett and New Media Investment Group — actively scouting acquisitions, Lee could be a target. Changes in takeover separation agreements for executives earlier this month have fueled speculation among analysts that the company could eventually come up for sale.