Media Perspective: Moloney's exit must mark seachange in static Emap strategy

Legacy, or a leader's sense of his place in history, is a hot topic right now, as Tony Blair prepares to leave number ten. In our own world, it will be fascinating to see how time judges Tom Moloney, the chief executive of Emap, who stepped down last week.

Observers say that Moloney's fall was a long time coming, as shareholder unrest built following the slow implementation of a digital strategy for the group. Critics of Moloney say that the real issue is not the strategy he agreed to put in place, but that the board needed to call in the consultants McKinsey to put something on the table that could have been signed off years earlier.

Yet, supporters argue that Moloney, an Emap veteran of some 26 years and described by some as "emotionally attached" to consumer magazines after experiencing the highs of its Smash Hits success in the 80s, was handed little alternative by a board opposed to changing Emap culture. The determination to preserve the status quo followed the winding down of Emap Digital in 2001 (the unit was integrated into other Emap divisions under Moloney's predecessor Robin Miller).

Whoever was to blame, Emap just hasn't evolved quickly enough given that its two major consumer markets, magazines and radio, are best described as "difficult" right now. Its business-to-business arm is another matter, but a success that few credit to Moloney.

Emap's share price leapt by 6 per cent on the morning of Moloney's departure, prompting speculation of a private equity bid and subsequent break-up of the group. This week, Emap announced a review of its Australian consumer magazine business in a bid to keep the wolves from the door.

With revenues down 13 per cent, it will now press on with what it is predicting will be a six-month search for a replacement, with the smart money on an outsider. The former director Tim Schoonmaker and the former BBC Worldwide chief Rupert Gavin have been connected with the post, but neither seem likely candidates, given that Schoonmaker has been linked with an aborted private equity bid for the group and that Gavin is said to have previously turned down the role before it was offered to Moloney.

But what is required? As one observer put it: "It needs someone to go in and kick out the dross and move things at the right speed, not at 30 miles per hour." The only problem being: where do you find a chief executive with the relevant FTSE 100 experience of dealing with the City and shareholders who also has a track record of successfully implementing a digital strategy? The retail sector, perhaps?

But whoever Emap turns to, Moloney's immediate legacy appears fragile, following a troublesome stint in the US and then this messy departure from the chief executive role.