MEDIA HEADLINER: Just another miracle needed from Barclays’ rescue expert. Bert Hardy is determined to make Sunday Business work, Anna Griffiths hears

It would have to be a brave, some would say foolhardy, person to take on the relaunch of Sunday Business, after its ill-fated and short-lived first outing. But if there is one person who has the bloody-minded determination to do it, Bert Hardy, chief executive of the Barclay Brothers outfit, European Press Holdings, is it.

It would have to be a brave, some would say foolhardy, person to

take on the relaunch of Sunday Business, after its ill-fated and

short-lived first outing. But if there is one person who has the

bloody-minded determination to do it, Bert Hardy, chief executive of the

Barclay Brothers outfit, European Press Holdings, is it.



Hardy has a reputation for never taking ’no’ for an answer. He

masterminded News International’s move to Wapping, and fought and

squashed Robert Maxwell’s efforts to take on the Evening Standard with a

rival newspaper, the London Daily News. He turned around the fortunes of

News of the World and the Sun and is poised to do the same with the

Sunday Business. His philosophy is: ’If you set your mind on something,

you might as well go for it. This will show in the Sunday Business - we

know how to do things and there are a lot of reputations staked on this.

We will produce a bloody good newspaper.’



Such tenacity enabled Hardy to reel in the ex-Sunday Times editor,

Andrew Neil, as editor-in-chief across EPH’s titles. Hardy admits that

hooking Neil was not easy. ’He took his time making his mind up.



It must rank as one of the longest conversations about work.’ And

according to those who work with him, Hardy likes to keep business

discussions short and sharp. David Jones, chairman of the DMB&B group,

which handles both the European and Sunday Business accounts, says. ’You

have ’yes’ and ’no’ conversations. You don’t have brand managers

’definite maybe’ conversations.



The meetings are much quicker than other client meetings and a lot more

decisions are made.’



Hardy makes it clear that the new Sunday Business, which launches on 15

February, is not to be compared with Tom Ruby-thon’s start-up, which

closed, after 16 months, last July. ’We don’t want to be associated with

it, and we are not associated with it. People now know who we are and we

have a completely new team of journalists on board.’



And with the Barclay Brothers behind it, resources are not in short

supply, although the period which will determine if the paper has a

future is a short one. ’We will know within two or three weeks. It’s as

quick as that. In the end it’s down to the readers who buy the

newspaper, and that we cannot pre-empt.’



Although Hardy ’retired’ as managing director of Associated Newspapers

in December 1994, within months he was installed as chief executive of

EPH. He spent most of the two-month respite between jobs in hospital

after being mown down by a car. ’I think it was an ex-SOGAT driver,’

Hardy quips.



Despite being sacked by Rupert Murdoch, he appears to bear no grudge:

’The luckiest thing was to meet Murdoch. I had been with the Mirror for

20 years and I was beginning to stagnate.’



In a career which has spanned TV (he’s deputy director of Channel 4),

radio and newspapers, he has learned a valuable lesson: ’What’s true of

any medium is that quality counts first and if you’re mean with the

resource you will not do well. That’s something which seems obvious, but

people in media are not backing talent.’



When tackled on his fierce reputation, Hardy says: ’That’s because of my

face!’ But he agrees: ’I’m not given to smiling easily.’ He doesn’t

suffer fools gladly and is not a man to be crossed. ’I wouldn’t envy

anyone who got on the wrong side of him,’ one industry source says.



Although Hardy’s stable of newspapers - which includes the European, the

Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday - has its share of troubles, he would

not baulk at adding the Independent to the EPH repertoire, as long as

full ownership was up for grabs. ’Of course, we would (buy the

Independent).



I think the price has gone down quite substantially, but the fact is,

it’s not for sale.’



Within three years of joining EPH, Hardy had returned the Scotsman and

Scotland on Sunday to profitability and, in the interim, picked up the

struggling European, reducing its losses by two thirds. He is convinced

that Sunday Business will turn in a profit. ’The people we reach

editorially will have a lot of advertising money to spend. Much more

than I’ve ever known.’



Despite nearing the venerable age of 70, Hardy shows no signs of

retiring and looks disgusted when he contemplates the idea. ’I don’t

want to think about it. The whole of my business life has been

tremendous fun and I’ve had a glorious time. May it go on forever.’



THE HARDY FILE



1962: The People and the Daily Herald (owned by Mirror Group), ad

director



1969: News of the World and the Sun, ad director



1972: News International, marketing director



1974: News International, chief executive



1980: Evening Standard, chief executive



1989: Associated Newspapers, managing director



1995: European Press Holdings, chief executive.



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