Feature

Donnish new Guardian chief surprises industry

Tim Brooks' breadth of experience helped him beat insider Stuart Taylor to the managing director's chair.

It is not every day that Campaign's media editor is handed the managing director's job at Guardian Newspapers. OK, so Tim Brooks left rather a long time ago (late in 1984, the office archivist reckons, although his memory is not what it was) and rather a lot has happened since then.

But still. As our list of successful former alumni grows, we can be forgiven for basking in a little reflected glory, however faint. So imagine our disappointment when, bursting with slightly inappropriate levels of proprietorial pride, we began discover our contacts were somewhat less enthusiastic about Brooks' appointment.

The reaction was uncannily similar at half a dozen agencies across town. "What do I think?" comes one typical response. "I think, poor Stuart, that's what I think."

That would be Stuart Taylor, GNL's commercial director and the man widely assumed to be the frontrunner for the job ever since it was announced that Carolyn McCall was stepping up to become the chief executive of Guardian Media Group. Speculation intensified when Taylor was shortlisted; and he was said to have been ashen- faced with suppressed anger when he found out he hadn't got the job.

It is telling that many observers automatically began talking of Taylor having been "passed over" for the job as if, having paid his dues, it had been his by rights.

That is not to say there is widespread hostility towards Brooks. Far from it. He is described by many as "one of the good guys" or, as another source has it, "one of the brightest and most reasonable people in this whole business".

Insiders are betting that Taylor has the fortitude and patience to want to stay (if Brooks will have him) - and if that comes to pass, the odds are that Brooks will thaw any initial frostiness there might be between them. He is good at building a robust esprit de corps.

For instance, one of the things he will be remembered for most fondly at IPC will be the way he would praise an editor for a good issue of a magazine. Most bosses do it rather begrudgingly by e-mail. But Brooks would come up and do it very publicly, standing by the editor's desk. Such generosity of spirit remains rare in publishing.

As one IPC insider puts it: "Tim is a fascinating character - and you'd have to say he's the world's least likely lads' mag boss. He's enormously well-educated and brings this lovely, urbane, donnish charm to everything he does. He's always dry and funny and brings a real intelligence to business decision- making, but he always makes me think he should be wandering around in a tweed jacket with elbow patches of the type favoured by university lecturers."

Brooks will not feel in any way at odds with The Guardian's current culture - politically and emotionally, he ticks most of the right boxes. He was regarded as somewhat left-leaning at Cambridge (not exactly a rarity in the late 70s) and studied law before switching to English literature, presumably with a career in journalism at least somewhere in the back of his mind.

After a remarkably short apprenticeship in business journalism, he took a huge leap of faith in 1984 by setting up his own company and launching Media Week in partnership with another ex-Campaign media editor, Ron McKay.

When Robert Maxwell bought the magazine in the late 80s, Brooks opted to help launch a version of Maxwell Business Communications in Australia rather than watch his Media Week vision get maimed horribly by a succession of Maxwell stooges.

When he returned to the UK, his entrepreneurial credentials slightly less than enhanced, he sported a beard, became the publisher of Emap's Architect's Journal and, to many, seemed increasingly cynical and sardonic. But it was at Emap that he rediscovered his enthusiasm for the business and ultimately, some observers say, his career, which began to build real momentum when he became a founder director of Emap Digital. It was Brooks' digital experience that interested IPC as it sought to rethink its youth-oriented brands in the aftermath of the dotcom crash.

And, Guardian insiders say, it was his track record in building print media brands as multi-platform properties, gained during his time as the managing director of IPC ignite!, that clinched the job for him ahead of Taylor.

But the main point is that his career has been more colourful and varied than that of your average candidate for high office in the media industry. His Media Week years were particularly hairy; and for those who see only the more donnish side of Brooks, his relationship with McKay will be of curious interest.

McKay, an often intemperate, rabble-rousing Glaswegian newspaper reporter and writer of hackneyed thrillers, has resurfaced recently as the press spokesman for George Galloway MP. Some say it was McKay who taught Brooks a thing or two about the media game's rougher arts. And Brooks can since claim with some justification that he knows a thing or two about the mindset of the hard- drinking radical left.

He may well need to call on some of those skills sooner than he would like because there is a faction that remains sceptical about his appointment. As one source puts it: "If you were in a meeting with the two of them, I don't think, based on charisma and leadership qualities alone, that you'd automatically assume that Tim was Stuart's boss."

And it is true that Brooks can rub people up the wrong way. He has an ex cathedra sense of his own intellectual infallibility and has been known to take a superior tone when challenged. At its worst, this betrays itself in more than a hint of pomposity.

Yet, more than anything, say some, he has the charismatic confidence of someone filled with an abiding sense of his own destiny. He has a lot to prove. But it's a penny to a pound he was always going to prefer it that way.

So perhaps we should leave it to Steve Goodman, the managing director of print trading at Group M, to sum up the mood of the industry: "Brooks has broad multimedia experience and that's clearly the way GNL wants to go. He's a really nice bloke. I feel for Stuart though - I can't deny that."