Media: Headliner: Emap 'lifer' reintroduces stability and growth
campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 01 July 2005 11:19AM
When Tom Moloney secured the Scottish Radio Holdings deal, it reassured some doubters in the City, Alasdair Reid says.
According to many observers, Emap's acquisition of Scottish Radio Holdings represents Tom Moloney's finest hour. Finest hour as the chief executive of Emap, that is. It's certainly his biggest deal.
When, following a protracted period of corporate dithering, Moloney was invited to succeed Kevin Hand in the top job at Emap, there were those who questioned his suitability for the role.
Emap was somewhat adrift following its embarrassing debacle in the US. Petersen Publishing, bought at the top of the economic cycle for £1 billion in 1998, was sold as the market hit rock-bottom three years later for £336 million. Hand walked and Emap subsequently seemed devoid of energy, and confidence or, indeed, any notion of a grand design.
So the City expected a successor with genuine status and profile. Instead, in January 2003, it got Moloney - an Emap "lifer" (he joined in 1981) who had been at the helm of Emap in the US when the ship finally went down. Good front-line experience if you looked at it in one way; bad karma in another light. City sceptics worried that Moloney tended to be "inward-looking" and a "no frills" manager. Terribly nice chap and all that - but did he have the charisma, the vision and the steeliness?
Well, we're a bit closer to an answer now - but it certainly hasn't involved much in the way of fireworks.
Which is exactly as promised. Moloney has always made clear his distrust of quick-fix deals.
Except, of course, for this latest deal, which grabbed more than a few headlines - last week Emap acquired the 73 per cent of SRH it did not already own for a total (including a provision for SRH debt) of £391 million.
At £10.88 a share, the deal pleased many analysts in the City who'd reckoned that £11 a share would be fair for all concerned. In particular, some noted the way Moloney was prepared to play hard ball (he bullied SRH management into a corner by leaking details of earlier talks to the press) to close the deal on his terms.
Moloney, in Cannes for the first time as the proprietor of the whole Cannes Lions festival, which Emap acquired for £52 million last year, is reluctant to talk about the acquisition or wider questions of strategy.
He claims this is because the deal has yet to receive either SRH shareholder approval or regulatory clearance - but this is a thin excuse. The truth is that Moloney is naturally reticent - on business issues at least. He's far happier talking about more important matters, such as Arsenal Football Club.
He's a north Londoner through and through. He grew up above the pub his mum ran - the Pied Bull on Liverpool Road, at the Angel end. It was a much-loved traditional Irish boozer but, as the result of an act of wanton vandalism, it has since metamorphosed into the Finnock & Firkin.
Moloney now lives in Stoke Newington and has a season ticket at Highbury.
He likes his football so much he used to do a bit of coaching and refereeing in his son's under-nines league. He has less time for that sort of thing these days, obviously.
It has been a hard grind at Emap, steady and unspectacular, but he has reintroduced stability and indeed growth - principally, some say, by refusing to be flustered. That's not to say there haven't been troublesome episodes, especially in the area of radio.
First there was the departure of Tim Schoonmaker, the chief executive of Emap Performance, the division responsible for radio. Schoonmaker had been instrumental in building and developing the company's distinctive portfolio of radio brands and his loss was unfortunate. As was the departure of his effective successor, Gary Hughes, whose remit as the finance director had been extended to cover radio.
Many had assumed at various times that Hughes, like Schoonmaker, had identified with a caucus of senior managers who advocated more radical options for Emap - notably focusing investment on radio and business-to-business media. Consumer magazines, they argued, no longer offer attractive growth prospects. They were particularly keen to see Emap's French magazine assets sold off.
But insiders say that in Hughes' case at least, this supposition is a red herring. He simply had his eyes on the top job and realised with each passing week that it just was not going to happen at Emap. "I think he found life under Tom rather more bruising than he'd bargained for," one source says.
And in any case, those who argued that there was insufficient focus on radio are at this very moment eating their own words. True, Moloney seems as keen as ever on France. He announced only a couple of weeks back that Closer will be launched there, bringing its portfolio of French titles to nearly 50. There will be no half measures there either - the launch budget will be around £12 million.
But radio's importance in the grand strategy is now assured too. The City reckons Moloney has got it about right. And the advertising market is happy too. As Howard Bareham, the head of radio at MindShare, says of the SRH deal: "This is now a clear statement that they are serious about radio and are in it for the long term. That will be welcome. Emap has excelled in the business of creating and promoting radio brands."
EMAP UNDER MOLONEY
January 2003: Moloney appointed chief executive
January 2004: Tim Schoonmaker, the chief executive of Emap Performance,
leaves. This coincides with Emap's most significant consumer magazine
launch since Closer - the men's weekly Zoo
August 2004: Emap buys the Cannes Advertising Festival for £52.4
February 2005: Emap launches the women's weekly glossy Grazia in the UK
June 2005: Emap finally acquires a majority stake in Scottish Radio
Holdings. It also commits to the French magazine market by announcing
the launch of Closer in France
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk
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