Alexandra Villoch, the Miami Herald Media Co.’s new leader, is a finance and sales veteran and a self-proclaimed news junkie who loves reading the printed newspaper but recognizes the importance of digital content.
“Newspapers have played a big role in my life,” Villoch said Monday after being named president of the media company and publisher of the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald. “When I was a little kid, I would get up real early in the morning and run to get the newspaper and read it before my father woke up. I still to this day like being the first one to take the newspaper out of the bag, the first to touch it and read it.”
When she begins her duties next week, Villoch, 56, will be the first female publisher in the Herald’s 110-year history and the third Hispanic in that role. She started as the company’s national advertising director in 2000 and has been senior vice president of advertising and marketing since 2005.
Villoch will replace David Landsberg as president and publisher. He is leaving the post this month after 7 ½ years to head Goodwill Industries of South Florida.
“I have no doubt that she will guide the enterprise into the future with great strength and creativity,” Landsberg said.
Villoch, who was born in Havana, moved to the United States with her family when she was 2. Her father’s construction job took the family to Puerto Rico, Louisiana, Texas and other locales before Villoch settled in Miami as a teenager to complete high school.
She graduated from Miami Dade College and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in business administration from the University of Miami. She also received management and leadership training at Northwestern University and Florida International University.
“Alex is a perfect fit for the job,” said Modesto “Mitch” Maidique, a former FIU president and the current executive director of its Center for Leadership, where Villoch serves on the board of advisors.
“She has excellent judgment, superb interpersonal skills, high integrity, keen intelligence, and she knows this community like the back of her hand,” he said. “She understands business and is able to make the tough decisions. She will be a terrific leader for the Herald.”
She also is active in civic affairs, serving on the executive committee of the Beacon Council and as its former chairwoman, as well as on the board of governors of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and on the board of directors of the Miami Dade College Foundation.
“Alex showed great leadership skills as chairman of the Beacon Council, and it has been a pleasure working with her as a member of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. She’s a great communicator and the definition of class,” said Alberto Dosal, chairman of the chamber. “I’m a big believer in hiring the right person, and Alex is tremendously qualified. The Herald is in good hands.”
Villoch’s roots in Miami and her connection to its business community are part of what propelled her name to the top of the list of publisher candidates, said Mark Zieman, vice president of operations for the McClatchy Co., which owns the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.
“Alex knows and believes in this region,” Zieman told employees gathered at the Herald’s headquarters on Monday. “She has been, and will continue to be, a great partner in the business community, a passionate advocate for the region, and a great champion of the vital and award-winning journalism you all do here each day.”
Using a journalism phrase, Zieman said he wouldn’t “bury the lede” in his remarks to staffers from the company’s news, business and production sides. He introduced Villoch to sustained applause.
“We looked across the country for the best candidate to lead this company, but we found her right here in this building,” Zieman said.
Villoch joined the Herald as national advertising director in 2000, and was named its director of retail advertising and event marketing in 2001.
She became senior vice president for advertising and marketing in 2005. In that role, Villoch was responsible for leading and developing marketing, sales and advertising strategies, as well as for directing HCP/Aboard, the company’s custom-publishing division. Under Villoch’s watch, the company launched niche products like Indulge, a glossy lifestyle magazine that she oversees, and Caliente, a Spanish-language entertainment tabloid.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled to have such a savvy, accomplished media executive as Alex in-house and ready to step up into this important post,” said Pat Talamantes, McClatchy’s president and CEO. “We’re excited about the future of the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald under Alex’s leadership.”
Villoch almost left the Miami Herald Media Co. in June 2008. She announced her resignation and intention to head the Zoological Society of Florida, which raises money for Zoo Miami. She soon changed her mind, and never actually left the Herald.
Her momentary decision to leave came as the Great Recession had begun to grip South Florida, crushing its real estate market and causing newspaper advertisers to pull back. The fact that the economic downfall appeared to hit Miami first made Villoch question her ability to be the Herald’s top advertising executive, she said.
“Other newspaper markets were up, and we were beginning to see this implosion that we didn’t know when would end,” Villoch said. “You start to doubt yourself and say, ‘Is it me? Maybe I should step aside and someone else should be the leader.’ ”
She said she realized after she gave notice that her passion was in the media business, and she didn’t want to abandon the challenge of navigating the company through the recession.
“I love animals, but I really love what we do here for our community,” she said. “This is where I belong.”
Before coming to the Herald in 2000, Villoch worked at United Airlines as its general manager for Miami International Airport and the Caribbean with responsibility for all passenger and cargo operations, sales and government relations. She also worked in financial and strategic planning roles at Eastern Airlines and at several banks prior to United.
“I think one thing I bring to this job is that I’ve been in different industries, like aviation and banking, that also are going through a transformation phase,” Villoch said. “Every business has to continually reinvent and challenge themselves, and ours is no different.”
She cited digital delivery of news — and making money from it — as a key to that transformation. The Herald’s websites, apps and other digital products reached 8.8 million unique users last month, Villoch said.
El Nuevo Herald’s social media accounts have gained scores of new international followers in recent weeks as people look to the paper’s Facebook and Twitter feeds for news from Venezuela.
“People look to us as the credible source of information across Latin America,” Villoch said. “We need to monetize this opportunity.”
She said she was optimistic about the Miami Herald Media Co.’s future. The company has reported gains in print and digital subscriptions, reaching about 1.5 million adults weekly in the local market. Sunday home delivery circulation grew 6.2 percent from January 2013 to January 2014, according to company reports.
Villoch told Herald employees on Monday that their work “saves lives and gives a face to those whose stories might otherwise go unnoticed,” using the Miami Herald I-team’s recent Innocents Lost project as an example.
“I look forward to working with all of you to carry out our mission of serving our diverse and vibrant community with credible, dynamic and high-quality journalism,” Villoch said. “We know that what we do makes a difference to our community: We celebrate and recognize the best, and we shine light on those dark areas the way no one else can or does.”
With Villoch’s promotion to president and publisher, Hispanic women now fill three key positions at the Miami Herald Media Co., including Miami Herald Executive Editor Aminda Marqués and el Nuevo Herald Executive Editor Myriam Márquez.
Villoch is married to Cesar Mendoza, a McClatchy IT executive. They live in Coral Gables and have four adult children.