Media Headliner: Dennis picks 'warts-and-all' Tye to lead empire

Felix Dennis reckons he knows what he is getting with company lifer James Tye as his new chief executive.

Tucked away in a poky corner office, James Tye appears every bit the geeky computer character you would expect from someone who has spent his career working on magazines such as PC Pro.

Nevertheless, after an extensive search among external candidates, he is the new chief executive of Dennis Publishing.

A lifer at Dennis, and the current managing director of its computer and gambling division, Tye has spent the past 13 years working his way up the ranks. A little disappointingly, Tye doesn't come with the lively tales you anticipate from someone who has worked under the legendary publisher Felix Dennis. Instead, he professes to "live his brand" - meaning he's a keen internet shopper and dabbles in a spot of online poker.

Starting out in editorial as the features editor on Windows Magazine, Tye switched over to the commercial side of things ten years ago. He explains there was an agenda behind this move. "I wanted to be chief executive very early on. Being an editor cuts off your opportunities," he asserts.

So now is his moment. After 13 years at the helm, Dennis' current chief executive, Alastair Ramsay, is stepping into a non-executive directorship role, leaving the company in Tye's hands.

And Felix Dennis believes that working at his company for so long has given Tye top credentials for the job. "It's an odd thing how we sometimes tend to undervalue internal candidates. I was grateful for the advice of a friend who suggested that any external candidate had better be 25 per cent better than an internal candidate, because you know the latter, warts and all, while his rival is wreathed in smoke and mirrors," he says.

Tye admits that there has been some surprise about his appointment, but agrees that spending his entire career at Dennis has set him up well for his new role.

"I know the personalities, the products and its strengths and weaknesses. Having worked at the company for so long, people may think I won't change things but anyone who has worked with me knows I will and do make changes," he asserts.

But Tye is keeping these changes very quiet. He is keen to avoid talking about specifics, but does admit that internet publishing is close to his heart. He says he will be spending time in the US to see how insights gained there can help his business. He adds: "We need a good magazine and internet strategy. Weeklies and the internet are today's big success stories and we need to be aware of this to pre-empt people's habits."

Tye is also committed to launching magazines and says he has ambitions in various areas. "Being a private company, we are very nimble. We are able to spot an opportunity and go for it quickly," he says.

Despite the lack of detail, Tye is keen to assert that things at Dennis are going to be different under his leadership. "I think in a different way (to Ramsay). I'm a 21st-century content consumer, while Alastair was more focused on traditional magazines."

And, he also promises to have a much more hands-on style of management, saying: "I'm nosey and will be into all aspects of the business."

Felix Dennis is confident about his choice. He says: "I plumped for the green, green grass of home and I believe James will make a superb chief executive. I look forward enormously to working with him."

So how will they work together? Tye says he and Dennis get on well, sharing a love of magazines and wine. But, with Dennis' involvement in the company he owns, how much ultimate control will Tye actually have?

"Felix works on the fundamental strategic decisions and some of the detail but I will be running the company day-to-day. My responsibility is to grow the UK operation. I have a very clear vision for Dennis and Felix shares this vision," he says.

The other issue for Tye is how he will cope with other areas of the business, having previously been focused solely on the computing and gambling sectors.

He is sanguine about this and says: "Publishing is publishing. You just need to understand your readers' needs and why advertisers want to reach them. We have talented people to specialise in the specific areas."

However, Tye is a relative unknown in the lifestyle market, an area which is important to the Dennis business. A top priority will be for Tye to get to know the media agencies and clients which bring in the revenue for titles such as Maxim and Men's Fitness and its motoring portfolio.

Tye is conscious of this issue. "I do need to get to know clients on the other side of the business and I won't stop until I've done that," he says bullishly.

Having waited so long for the chief executive's job to become vacant, Tye has obviously honed his vision and strategy for Dennis and he is now single-minded and determined to deliver it. He also flags up the challenges of declining UK magazine adspend, a difficult retail environment and the need to change readers' habits. But you get the impression that he has some ideas to tackle these issues.

When he takes up the new role in January, it is more than likely that he will lead the change and modernisation that will set up Dennis Publishing well for the future.

THE LOWDOWN Lives: St Albans, Hertfordshire Family: Married, with a 4-month old daughter Bethan, and a boisterous Labrador Describe yourself in three words: To the point Most treasured possession: 19th century claret jug, inherited from my Father Favourite magazine: The Week, PokerPlayer, and Gardeners World Interests outside work: Golf, wine, cooking, vegetable gardening and online poker Motto: You reap what you sow

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