Media: All about ... Guardian Media Group

The appointment of the new CEO divides opinion, Alasdair Reid writes.

Meet the new boss - not very much like the old boss. Or so you'd think. When observers, not least those in the advertising community, are moved to compare Andrew Miller rather unfavourably with his predecessor, what they're really trying to say (you suspect) is that he's not quite as pretty as Carolyn McCall - and slightly less charismatic.

But when they argue that Guardian Media Group's new chief executive is "not very Guardian", they tend to forget that McCall wasn't really very Guardian either. She had (indeed, has) an old-school approach to business - unsentimental, scrupulously fair but uncompromisingly hard-headed - and is blessed with personal values and a lifestyle shared by few of her fellow travellers, save, perhaps, for the group's well-connected editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger.

She did not, it almost goes without saying, spend much of her time in the postcode of N16. Miller, it also has to be said, comes from a similarly hard-headed background - and is similarly vague about the precise location of Stoke Newington, where, according to legend, the group's entire editorial staff live.

Miller, a lawyer and an accountant by training, has had spells at Pepsi and Procter & Gamble and came within the orbit of GMG as the chief financial officer of its subsidiary, Trader Media Group. He spent six years in that role before becoming the chief financial officer at GMG in August 2009.

True, GMG didn't exactly throw its headhunting net very wide, having decided a star name "marquee signing" was inappropriate - and insiders admit there were no other credible candidates. So Miller had a clear run at this, which will always lead to suspicions that GMG could have done better.

And yet you can see where senior GMG sources are coming from when they say Miller is exactly the right man for the job. Having flirted in recent times with all sorts of unlikely notions of global domination (there has been lurid talk, for instance, of The Guardian becoming the world's "leading liberal voice"), GMG has entered a phase that will be characterised by prudence and realistically modest ambitions.

GMG, in the short to medium term, won't be selling any of its assets, nor will it be buying. It won't be doing anything strategically risky, like toying with online paywalls. It has already completed its move to new offices behind King's Cross station; and it has already stripped out a tier of middle-rankers, including a hard core of ideologues (known in some agency circles as the "digital Taliban") who have, in recent years, clouded the group's vision somewhat.

Perhaps most importantly of all, it has cleaned up its balance sheet by writing down some of its assets and has taken the resulting bad publicity (annual results included a headline record loss of £171 million) on the chin.

Miller's job now will be to make sure that the losses on the newspaper division (there's a recognition that digital advertising isn't riding to the rescue and that there will be losses for the foreseeable future) are balanced by profits produced by the group's other assets, not least its investment fund of more than £200 million, managed by Cambridge Associates.

1. Miller is stepping into one of the most proscribed senior jobs in media. GMG is wholly owned by the Scott Trust, an organisation whose sole mission is to support Guardian News & Media (or, to be more precise, The Guardian newspaper and website) in perpetuity.

2. GMG's other assets include GMG Radio, headed up by the chief executive, Stuart Taylor; Trader Media Group, owned in a joint venture with Apax Partners and headed by the chief executive, John King; and Emap, another Apax joint holding, led by the chief executive, David Gilbertson. In March 2010, it sold its loss-making GMG Regional Media to Trinity Mirror.

3. In the final part of McCall's reign, there were increasing worries that losses on GNM were running out of control thanks, in part, to the high costs incurred in building and maintaining a substantial web presence. GNM advertising revenues are currently around £100 million, with digital making up about 30 per cent of that figure. A comprehensive strategic review at GNM was followed by restructuring and cost-savings of £26.2 million during the last financial year.



- In a word, stability. Stability and continuity. Two words. The closing months of Carolyn McCall's reign were not happy ones. Not entirely her fault, of course - few media organisations had a happy 2009.

- The worst is over - now GNM will benefit from having a "Steady Eddie" at the GMG helm. It needs breathing space.


- The minority view in the advertising community maintains that GMG has missed a real opportunity here - and should have sought to make a truly inspired appointment (like, they say, David Abraham at Channel 4) or a no-nonsense heavyweight who'd go in and shake things up.

- Tellingly, though, even those with less extreme opinions believe that GMG, and its newspaper division especially, has lost its way somewhat. As one media agency managing director puts it: "I think it's telling that they've gone for a man with his sort of finance background. They've done things over the past couple of years that don't exactly come across as very shrewd in a business sense - which is all the more odd because, traditionally, they have had some very shrewd people commercially at GNM. They've found it challenging to monetise their online properties and you sense that they're slightly mystified about that. They've also struggled to leverage the power of the group. It's a shame because a decade ago GNM was the market leader. Now The Times is seen as a braver culture and the Telegraph more astute. It was once a pioneering organisation. It has to rediscover that."