Torstar has signed a definitive agreement to sell its troubled Troll Communications division to Willis Stein &Partners, a Chicago-based investment firm, for $70 million. The deal is expected to close by the end of the first quarter.

Dan Blumenthal, managing director for Willis Stein, told PW that the firm was interested in entering the education and direct-marketing fields and that Troll fits both objectives. Blumenthal said that Willis Stein "fully supports" Troll's current management team, led by Candy Lee. Lee, a longtime Torstar veteran, was appointed president of Troll last June (News, June 22, 1998) and will serve as CEO under the company's new owners. Blumenthal said Willis Stein is confident that Lee is the right person to turn around the struggling company. He added that no personnel changes are planned.

The sale will end Torstar's disastrous 20-month association with the children's book fair and book club operator. Torstar acquired Troll in July 1997 for $140 million and has experienced nothing but losses since the purchase; Torstar reported it will record a one-time loss of C$100 million in relation to the sale of the company.

Troll's new parent company manages more than $1 billion in assets, and has investments in media, telecommunications, health care, financial services and light manufacturing. This is its first investment in the book publishing field. Blumenthal and Willis Stein principal John Willis will sit on the Troll board following completion of the acquisition.