The Onion CEO Steve Hannah to Step Down

The executive tells TheWrap about his decision, the state of the satire site, and the possibility of a sale

Last Updated: June 17, 2015 @ 10:14 AM

Steve Hannah announced Wednesday that he is stepping down as CEO of The Onion on July 1 after 11 years in the position, TheWrap has learned. For now, he’ll stay on as chairman, while longtime executive Mike McAvoy will take over as chief executive.

Hannah is widely credited with leading The Onion’s digital transformation, as well as the company’s move to Chicago, where it recently doubled its office space. His departure also comes as The Onion continues its discussions with interested buyers about a possible sale of the company.

“There are a number of players who we’re still we’re having conversations with,” Hannah told TheWrap, noting that a deal is not imminent. “We’re not in any hurry. We have a good and profitable business.”

Hannah cited the recent creation of new verticals Onion Sports and Star Wipe, a parody of Hollywood entertainment shows. In addition, the company has launched a new video hub, signed new distribution partners and expanded its TV development process under a newly hired development head, Kyle Ryan, a veteran of The AV Club and EW.com. 

“We’re doing a lot of our own internal pilots for pitching the studios,” he said. “We have a lot on our plate. We are in an incredibly competitive world, to stay independent is a feat in itself.”

Hannah had high praise for McAvoy. “He’s completely and utterly ready and has been a large part of the growth of The Onion,” he said, adding that he will still have a substantial investment in the business.

“I have been planning to go for a year,” the 67-year-old told TheWrap. “Nobody should do this job for more than five years. I’ve done it for 11.” His plans include finishing a book project, exploring some commercial opportunities and pursuing his hobbies of sailing, “mediocre golf” and building a cabin in Wisconsin. 

READ STEVE HANNAH’S MEMO TO STAFF:

To: Onion Nation

From: Steve Hannah

Re: Departing Words

This morning I flew down to David Schafer’s home in Jupiter, Fl., to tell the great man that, after almost 11 years as boss of his beloved Onion, I am going to resign as CEO and make a dramatic exit in mid-July.

Or maybe just a quiet one.

At David’s request, I will continue to serve as Chairman of the Board until he comes to his senses.

Meanwhile, I have been CEO of The Onion since 2004. I have been part of and witness to the company’s transition from a funny little newspaper to a full-blown digital publishing empire known the world over. It has been a privilege to play a role in shepherding what a really tall man at a cocktail party in New York once told me–very melodramatically–was a “national treasure.” It scared me a little but, the more I thought about it and the longer I worked at The Onion, the more I came to believe it.

The Onion is a national treasure.

While I’m sure news of my resignation will send the stock market swooning, the good news is that Mike McAvoy, with whom I have had the good fortune of working side-by-side for more than a decade, will take over as CEO on July 1. This is a plan that has been in the works for many months. This is the easiest transition imaginable.

While I am a man who is happiest reading Crime and Punishment and writing notes in more than 140 characters, Mike is a man of enormous energy and intelligence who finds everything about the ever-changing, Wild West of digital publishing absolutely fascinating. And, as we all know, he has a work ethic to match his brainpower.

And he loves this company and wants to see it get bigger and better.

So, my heartiest congratulations go to Mike. He has earned this promotion.

A few months ago, my daughter and I were having a conversation about our respective jobs. I was talking excitedly about a bunch of new initiatives that The Onion was undertaking and how confident I was that we would succeed. For whatever reason (probably because she is young), she suddenly asked:

“Is there anyone in your whole company who you don’t personally like?” 

I did a mental walk through every part of our office, past every desk and conference room, past every face.

“No,” I said. “I like every single person at The Onion. They are far and away the most likable and talented collection of people I have ever worked with.”