Gannett veteran takes on leadership role in Southwest Florida

Laura Layden
Naples Daily News

A Gannett veteran is taking over the reins as one of the company's market leaders in Southwest Florida.

The media giant tapped Tom Claybaugh for the top position in Naples, with the start of the new year.

Born and raised in Rochester, New York, Claybaugh has been with Gannett for more than 32 years. He started as a sales executive, working his way up through the ranks to become a publisher.

As a publisher and president, he moved around within the Gannett family, with stints at its media properties in various states, including Ohio, New York, the Carolinas and Tennessee.

In his most recent job, he served as a regional vice president for sales and a senior business leader for marketing solutions for the USA TODAY Network in western New York, based at the Democrat and Chronicle, a daily newspaper in Rochester.

Tom Claybaugh

Previously, he'd worked three times in advertising and sales for the Democrat and Chronicle. It's where he planned to finish out his long, successful career and retire one day, with family living nearby, including children and grandchildren.

That is until the opportunity for a leadership role in Southwest Florida came knocking.

"I never saw it coming," said Claybaugh, 62, in a phone interview.

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The new job, as a market leader for Naples, is one of the most desirable positions to have at Gannett, as the region continues to grow and evolve, Claybaugh said.

He'll also serve as the vice president of sales for Southwest Florida, including Fort Myers.  

"The opportunity presented itself and I was very interested in being part of the next evolution of what we do moving forward," Claybaugh said. 

Asked about the next evolution, he said, "I don't know whether there is a clear path yet." 

Tom Claybaugh

Challenges welcomed

Uncertainty doesn't seem to bother Claybaugh. In fact, he describes himself as a problem solver, who likes challenges.

"I like the opportunity to go somewhere else and make a difference," Claybaugh added.

Previously at Democrat and Chronicle:Rochester native Claybaugh named as D&C vice president for sales

As part of its cost-cutting efforts to gain a competitive edge, Gannett has eliminated local and regional publisher positions across its network. 

As a result of the consolidation, Bill Barker stepped down as the president and publisher of the Naples Daily News and The News-Press — and as a regional president for Gannett in Florida — a little over a year ago. 

The two local newspapers, once fierce competitors, now operate as sister publications in the expansive USA TODAY Network, which includes hundreds of media properties around the country.

After Barker's departure, Shawna Devlin, a regional vice president of sales, took over many of his duties. Devlin's recent decision to leave Gannett opened the door for Claybaugh to assume her role and become a market leader in Southwest Florida. 

Shawna Devlin of the Naples Daily News and Ned Sachs.

As for his first priorities in his new role, Claybaugh said he'll listen and learn where and how he can be of the most help.

A brief visit to Naples a few weeks ago, he said, allowed him to meet a few of his new colleagues, but it didn't give him a good sense of the market — other than the fact that it attracts many New Yorkers this time of year, looking to escape the frigid air and snow up north. 

"I won't miss the snow," Claybaugh said.

In an email, Lana Champion, a regional president for the Southeast with the USA TODAY Network, described Claybaugh as one of Gannett's top media executives, with proven results. 

"He has a strong track record of developing partnerships to help local businesses and communities thrive," she said. "I have no doubt he will make an impact on the markets." 

Tom Claybaugh is a new market leader for Gannett in Southwest Florida.

A natural fit

Sales isn't something Claybaugh dreamed of doing as a child, or even as a college student, but it came to him naturally.

He gave sales a try after serving six years in the Navy — and sales stuck, leading him to Gannett's doorstep. 

Asked why he's stuck with Gannett for so long, Claybaugh said he's always seen it as a solid company.

"I always believed in their mission," he said. "I believed in their willingness and desire to serve." 

A graduate of the State University of New York College at Brockport, Claybaugh earned a degree in computer science, but it didn't hold his interest.

Before his last visit to Southwest Florida to get acclimated to his new surroundings, Claybaugh said he'd traveled to the area a few times, more for fun, and loved it.

"There are a few people from Rochester that have relocated there and I look forward to connecting with them," he said while still in New York. "I am a golfer, which is a huge plus for me in Southwest Florida." 

He's not the only one who's happy about the move.

"My wife is a huge fan of beaches," Claybaugh said. "They don't get much better than in Southwest Florida." 

Moving on

As for Devlin, she said she's not going far.

In fact, she's staying in Southwest Florida, where she'll serve as president of Allied Garage Doors. 

Shawna Devlin spoke at the 14th Annual Choice Awards, which honor the best and brightest area businesses. The event was hosted by the Naples Daily News, where she worked for almost 15 years.

She sees her new job as a great fit for many reasons.

"It was the right time to make the next move in my career," she said. "Leaving a company after almost 15 years is a difficult decision. It was important to find an organization focused on growth that has a strong culture, a customer-first strategy and one that is active in our community."

In the end, she said, the choice to join the Allied team came easily because its personal and professional vision and values aligned with her own.  

"I am excited to be working with what I believe is the best home services company in the area," said Devlin, who grew up in Southwest Florida.

She said she'll miss working with the local team for Gannett the most, describing them as fabulous professionals with "a passion for doing right by our market."

"Tom is lucky to be joining such a well-established, competent, and professional team," Devlin said.