Caroline Marland, who retires this year after 25 years at Guardian Newspapers, has a penchant for coming first. First woman ad director on Fleet Street. First to recognise the potential of the classified sales market. First Guardian executive to marry, ahem, a Tory MP.
This month sees her end a newspaper career of extraordinary success - success, unusually for one so high profile, barely seasoned with controversy or feud. She retires to become the joint founder of Potential Squared, a company that will provide mentors for senior managers in the business.
Marland, born in Dublin, the eldest of three children, stormed the male-dominated world of newspapers that she entered by taking a job as a telephone saleswoman on The Yorkshire Post.
At that time, telephone sales was in its infancy, a whole new world waiting to be mapped out and conquered. Marland started out by selling space to car dealers, then moved to property, then to training others. She moved to London and was quickly offered jobs on The Times, The Sunday Times and the Evening Standard. She chose The Times, where, she has said, they sent her on 'every management course known to man' but would never let her manage anything. So she looked around and in 1976 she took a job at The Guardian where she worked her way up from classified sales manager to managing director of the Guardian Media Group.
At The Guardian, she is credited with revolutionising the classified sales market, working closely with editor Peter Preston to produce new editorial sections with regular ad slots, such as creative and media, education and society.
When she started out, Marland could barely get a job ad in the paper - The Telegraph and The Times dominated. When she left it was a different story. Now The Guardian carries some 52 per cent of the national recruitment market, providing a bedrock for the paper's financial stability. Her strategy?
Focus, a resolute belief in editorial independence and smart campaigning aimed at convincing advertisers.
As The Guardian's prima donna and principal boy rolled into one, Marland has dealt with issues as diverse as printing plants, cover-price wars, new media, unions and the like.
But in a newspaper world fuelled by hot tempers, hard words and casual rudeness, she has retained a very personal management style, one characterised as much by intuition and openness as much as steely determination. She battered down the doors of prejudice by sheer energy and kept them open by her own talent and that of the people she recruited to work around her. Inevitably, some of the challenges remain unfulfilled: The Observer, though buoyed up by its new monthly sports section, is still proving to be a mighty problem. Meanwhile, the online franchise of The Guardian - dubbed Guardian Unlimited - has got off to a flying start.
Marland has endured a period of poor health in recent months: but that, it is clear, has done nothing to dampen her fires of enthusiasm for business in general and the newspaper business in particular. Indeed, it is a tribute to her slick succession management that her deputy, Carolyn McCall, was able to step up to the top job more swiftly than had been planned. Marland is a worthy winner of Campaign's third Media Achiever of the Year Award.
THE MARLAND FILE
1995: Appointed managing director, national newspaper division, Guardian Media Group
1987: Appointed deputy managing director, The Guardian
1984: Joins the board of Guardian Newspapers, named advertising woman of the year by Adwoman Association
1983: Appointed advertising director, The Guardian
1981: Appointed deputy advertising director, The Guardian
1979: Appointed classified sales manager, The Guardian
1976: Moves to The Guardian as telephone sales manager
1972: Joins The Times, managing sales of personal columns
1969: Joins The Yorkshire Post as telephone saleswoman
1946: Born in Dublin. Educated in Ireland and at Ada Foster stage school, London.