Emap hands over the reins to the 'no-frills' insider Moloney

Tom Moloney’s devotion to Emap is rewarded with the top post, writes Alasdair Reid.

Some corporate cultures are extremely nervous about giving the top job to an internal candidate. However good your home-grown hotshots may be, they are by definition untested at the highest level. It's less likely you'll be pilloried in the City for bringing in an outsider and there's always an outside chance that an incomer will bring some half-decent ideas with them.

Emap, though, is a different kettle of fish. It likes to see itself as a bold challenger brand in the corporate arena, a self-made success built on teamwork, ferocious loyalty and commitment. Even so, it has been cautious about this one. It cast around in all directions for six months before deciding that 43-year-old Tom Moloney was, after all, group chief executive material.

Several names were in the frame over this period - the TV stalwart Malcolm Wall was a front runner at one stage, allegedly, and there were even false reports before Christmas that the ntl boss, Stephen Carter, had signed on the dotted line.

All of which must have been extremely unsettling for Moloney as he watched and waited? Not really, he says. He wasn't that close to the whole process, for a start. And he's not necessarily being cute when he says he was confident that the right decision would be made; but he's certainly demonstrating his famed Emap loyalty when he says he would have worked happily with any appointee.

Currently the chief operating officer, he succeeds Robin Miller, who retires, on 23 January. So, is this an endorsement of the existing strategy? "Yes," he says. "They took six months to look at alternatives and different ideas and came to the

conclusion that the existing team wasn't making a bad fist of it."

But is more of the same all that Emap needs right now? The group has reached an interesting stage in its development. In women's magazine terms, it's a ToT (triumph over tragedy) story. The tragedy was its hubristic $1.5 billion entry to the US market through the purchase of Petersen Publishing and the subsequent pig's ear it made of this transatlantic adventure.

The triumph, of course, is Emap's retrenchment. Its decision to refocus on core values, resulting in a storming comeback in its core youth-orientated UK magazine and radio markets. It's currently firing on all cylinders. But new question marks have emerged. Last year, when its joint venture with the French publisher Hachette was dissolved, it lost control of the flagship women's glossies Elle and Red. Does it now need to replace them? Meanwhile, in radio, the market is poised to go through another frenzied round of consolidation triggered by the Communications Bill. Will Emap be a buyer or a seller?

Industry sources are confident that Moloney can find the right answers. Richard Hitchcock, an analyst with Numis Securities, comments: "It's important to maintain the momentum of new magazine launches. I think the signals are that Moloney wants to be strong in radio but isn't going to be forced to pay over the odds. That's what you'd expect to hear currently from a buyer - and Emap has £300 million in cash to spend while keeping the balance sheet relatively comfortable."

Media agency sources say that Moloney is well placed to lead a strategy of growth through launch rather than acquisition in the consumer magazine market. After all, he came up through the ranks on the publishing side and was previously the boss of the whole magazine division - Heat was one of his more successful babies.

Tim McCloskey, a managing partner of OMD UK, says: "It's encouraging to see someone from the nuts and bolts side of the business, rather than a corporate glad-hander, getting the top job. It's good for our business, ad agencies and media companies, because he will understand our concerns and will be prepared to listen."

Moloney will obviously have to do his fair share of gladhanding now, of course. "There's not much in the way of frills but he's a great bloke," was one opinion. "People genuinely get to like him. He's very direct. If you have lunch with him you know there's an agenda. There isn't much chit chat. As far as I can tell he's driven by two things - Emap and Arsenal."

Moloney is Islington born and bred but doesn't like to reveal too much about his private life.

Many observers say it was a near miracle that Moloney escaped the Petersen debacle with his reputation intact. But is there a danger that the experience will make him too cautious in the future? "There were lots of lessons to be taken from Petersen," he admits. "One was that we will approach acquisitions with a more mature head. Some of the things we have said about radio have been interpreted as meaning that we will exit the market but I don't accept that. If you ask me do I think Emap will be in radio in five years then the answer is yes."

Tom Moloney

2002 Emap group chief executive

2001 Emap chief operating officer

1999 Emap USA chief executive

1994 Emap Consumer Magazines chief executive

1981 ECC Publishing, publisher of Educational Computing. Title was then acquired by Emap.