HEADLINER: IPC chief makes it his mission to prepare a smooth flotation - Mike Matthew also steered IPC through its successful buyout, Anna Griffiths says

’To be comfortable is to be dead,’ Mike Matthew proclaims, punctuating the statement with a trail of cigarette smoke. The chief executive of IPC Magazines is a man with a mission. He always has been, having climbed the ladder from office junior to top dog in 34 years with the company.

’To be comfortable is to be dead,’ Mike Matthew proclaims,

punctuating the statement with a trail of cigarette smoke. The chief

executive of IPC Magazines is a man with a mission. He always has been,

having climbed the ladder from office junior to top dog in 34 years with

the company.



His latest quest is to prepare IPC for flotation in the next three to

five years, following its pounds 860 million management buyout from its

parent company, Reed Elsevier, in January.



In the past six weeks he has dispensed with three titles, announced the

launch of 17 magazines in the next four months (with a further six

titles in the pipeline), and is still tweaking the overall structure of

the company. It seems IPC, labelled in the past as a sleeping giant, has

gained a new lease of life as it embarks on an aggressive launch and

acquisition strategy to keep its backers happy.



Matthew says: ’We have a lot more acquisition targets and dialogues

going on now than in the past five years. We are looking harder and in a

much more structured fashion. There will be some acquisitions fairly

soon.



There are going to be lots more ideas about brand extensions,

merchandising and commercial exploitation.’ Matthew, with his moustache,

looks and sounds like a Sergeant Major brandishing his latest

battle-plan. ’This is a big corporation and it’s a new world. We are

spending our money right and getting more bangs for our buck.’



Matthew refers to ’a few little disappointments’ on the new-project

front, where titles have fallen flat before launch, but hints ’there are

a couple of biggies going along well’. While he is eyeing up the

potential of masthead TV, Matthew is also looking to develop IPC’s

new-media interests. ’We have very good proposals on new-media sites. We

are beginning to work in a focused fashion on a big website, which will

probably launch in January 1999 in the country and leisure area.’



Steering the company through an MBO has taken its toll on Matthew, who

looks more drawn than he did the last time I saw him, but observers say

he has managed a difficult manoeuvre with strength and

determination.



Terry Mansfield, managing director of the National Magazine Company,

says: ’He’s done a tremendous job in holding IPC together during a

tricky time.



We were in the frame as one of IPC’s possible buyers - it was like me

coming and looking through his filing cabinet. He dealt with that with

professionalism and dignity.’ Matthew admits IPC seemed temporarily to

lose its momentum. ’But I feel now we have that impetus back and are

starting to push on at good speed.’



While enjoying the luxury of a chauffeur-driven Jaguar - a perk of being

a chief executive - Matthew never forgets his roots. ’I sometimes feel

that I’m going to be found out,’ Matthew confesses when he compares his

lifestyle today with his upbringing on a council estate. ’But it keeps

you on your toes. If you can’t look back at where you’ve come from, it’s

more difficult to face the future.’



Mansfield has a similar background to Matthew. ’We both started as

office boys. We come from a similar background but operate differently -

I’m passionate about branding while Mike has always been more into

market share.’ Colin Reeves-Smith, managing director of international

and business development at IPC,



describes Matthew’s down-to-earth side. ’There’s no bullshit. He’s the

sort of guy that, if he invites you to lunch or dinner in the boardroom,

is just as likely to order a curry as something fancy.’



The partnership of Matthew with David Arculus, who will shortly join IPC

as non-executive chairman, is one that IPC insiders and external

commentators alike are watching with curiosity. Reeves-Smith maintains

that Matthew sees the benefits of such a partnership. ’He could have

behaved very differently when he heard Arculus was coming in, but he

sees it as a dream ticket.’ Matthew is keen to get started. ’The sooner

we work together, the better. As to David and I being dissimilar, that

is clearly so. If you put two chemicals into a mix there’s a chance of

volatility. David and I will have a complementary relationship which

will be good for us and for IPC.’



What will Matthew’s mission be after flotation? ’We’ll worry about that

afterwards. The important thing is to get the company in a position to

float and to satisfy the aspirations of all the parties. After that, I

could step back from being an in-the-trenches chief executive and phase

myself out gently. I’ll be a serious old fart by then!’



THE MATTHEW FILE

1964 IPC, office junior

1970 IPC, production controller

1981 Woman’s Own and Woman’s Weekly, business manager

1984 Women’s weeklies, publishing director

1986 Weeklies group, managing director

1991 IPC, deputy chief executive

1992 IPC, chief executive, leading MBO at the end of 1997.



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