May 16, 2021

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Joanna Coles: A Media Star Scores With Spacs

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In 2018, Joanna Coles announced her departure from publisher Hearst Magazines in a Instagram video filmed on his desk on a treadmill, overlooking the Manhattan skyline.

As the conveyor belt spun under her workstation, the British-born journalist explained that she was moving on after a 12-year stint at Hearst which saw her go from editor-in-chief of Marie Claire to Cosmopolitan has a role on the board of directors.

Now Coles, 58, is back on the treadmill as she chart a new course in the world of corporate finance. She and her new business partner Jonathan Ledecky, co-owner of the New York Islanders ice hockey team, have founded several special purpose acquisition companies to target opportunities in emerging markets and among young consumers. This week, one of them, Northern Star Investment Corp II, agreed to pay $ 4.7 billion for an obscure custody and clearing company and launch it on the New York Stock Exchange.

The deal for Apex Clearing, which seeks to capitalize on the hobbyist investment boom, is just the latest sign of the sparkling market for Spacs, which sees sponsors selling shares in a blank check vehicle which then uses the money to buy or merge with a private company.

A narcotic $ 83.4 billion raised from 248 Spac ads in the US in 2020, according to Spac Research. Despite criticism that Spacs tend to benefit from it sponsors to the detriment of public investors, the craze continued into 2021, with nearly $ 60 billion already raised by tennis star Serena Williams and retired basketball player Shaquille O’Neal.

Coles, whose nascent Spac portfolio focuses on disruptive technologies, insists she is not driven by the desire to profit.

“I have to pay the exorbitant American tuition fees,” she jokes over the phone. His two sons from his marriage to author and journalist Peter Godwin, which ended in 2019, are currently at US universities.

“People who know me would say I’m not motivated by money, however. I am motivated by curiosity, and this curiosity takes you to different worlds. Right now, I happen to be in the financial world. ”

Growing up in Yorkshire, in the north of England, Coles created his own magazines as a hobby and sent a copy to the Queen for her approval. She was fascinated by America and was passionate about The Mary Tyler Moore Show, whose female protagonist was a motivated young television news producer.

Arriving in London in the mid-1980s, Coles proceeded to hopscotch among media jobs to the Spectator, to the Daily Telegraph then to the Guardian. Colesy’s colleagues, as he was called, remember being struck by his ambition. She was always moving on to bigger and more glamorous things.

In 1997, Coles jumped at the chance to travel to New York as bureau chief for The Guardian. Shortly after arriving, she fell pregnant with her first son and chose to switch to the more predictable schedule of a magazine editor. She took a 50 percent pay cut to join New York magazine in 2001, but it paved her way into the stratosphere of American journalism.

In 2006, Coles was editor-in-chief of Marie Claire and six years later took over Cosmopolitan, which had a monthly circulation of 3 million and growing. Coles organized the digital switchover and became a full-fledged personality, producing and appearing in a range of television shows.

David Carey, who was president of Hearst Magazines until 2018, says he transferred Coles to Cosmopolitan because of his charm: “Joanna will walk to Barack Obama, Mike Bloomberg, David Solomon [of Goldman Sachs] or Brian Chesky at Airbnb and within 30 seconds they’re best friends. It’s a gift. “

Although she was touted as a possible successor to Carey, Coles, who was then the company’s first content director, lost to Troy Young and left the company. Coles insists she still had plans to move on, but someone familiar with the matter says executives at Hearst believed Coles prioritized her personal brand over her work in the company and accelerated its release.

At that time, Coles was a board member of Snap, which owns the photo-sharing app Snapchat, and she has since become a director of home audio maker Sonos.

Snap gave her a first glimpse of a company’s IPO in 2017, when she worked with chief executive Evan Spiegel on the initial public offering. “Everything was on the bridge,” Spiegel told the Financial Times. “I was exhausted afterwards, but Joanna clearly appreciated it.”

Last March, Ledecky persuaded Coles to join his Spac team. “Jon is a Spac veteran,” she says, “I didn’t want to do it with someone who hadn’t done it before because. . . there’s a rhythm, which Jon has downstairs.

At a time when Spacs seem to outnumber good buyout candidates, Coles’ charm has come in handy. For her first Spac contract, she successfully courted the founders of online pet care service Bark, during a socially distant stroll through Central Park in New York City. The two Northern Star Spacs are among the fastest to announce deals, taking just 36 days for Bark and 27 days for Apex, according to Spac Research.

Coles has planned two more Spacs, but she has no plans to end her career in finance. “In five years, I saw myself going across America with a notepad, deciding to write a book on the history of Mississippi,” she says. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”

oliver.barnes@ft.com





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