Media: A Moment with Marquis

Last month, The Daily Telegraph published a stinging attack on The Guardian's management by its erstwhile executive editor, Albert Scardino. Scardino (married to Dame Marjorie, the chief executive of Pearson) asserted that the "commercial and managerial sides of The Guardian are a failure by any meaningful benchmark".

Though the criticism was widely seen as sour grapes (weren't profits bound to slip in the wake of the Berliner relaunch?), some will view the retirement of the Guardian Media Group's chief executive, Sir Robert Phillis, as significant.

The departure is sad because Sir Bob is fighting (successfully, it seems) bone marrow cancer and though he seems as fit as ever, the decision to stand down is mainly health-driven.

Nevertheless, it may be that his sense of timing is acute. Guardian Newspapers and its group siblings are entering a challenging phase. With The Guardian and The Observer now in Berliner format, much effort and ingenuity are required to make that colossal investment pay and to establish the new designs as advertiser- and reader-friendly. Circulation rose and then fell, as is often the case with relaunches, but securing new readers is a priority.

Nevertheless, the move has been a good one. The Guardian looks fresh and self-confident. The Observer is still too new to judge but it seems happy and busy enough in its new guise. Both papers will look and feel different from their rivals for years.

At the same time, their competitors will not give them an easy ride in a year that everyone in the national press expects to be tough.

After nine years at the helm, Phillis' instinct tells him it is time to hand over to someone new. He has held senior media positions since his thirties (including the deputy director-general role at the BBC) and while 60 is by no means old, he may be feeling he has done all he can for GMG. Carolyn McCall, the respected chief executive of the national newspapers, is the obvious internal candidate to replace him, but Paul Myners, GMG's chairman, may also consider external candidates.

Phillis has sat comfortably within the unique environment of The Guardian.

Sandwiched between the day-to-day operations of the business and its high-minded governing body, the Scott Trust, his blend of humour and attention to detail saw the group through many a tough time. Time may show his handing-over of the reins to be prudent but there's no doubt Phillis and his particular style will be missed.


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