Thursday, 26 January 2012

New boss Highfield on future of Johnston Press

Fascinating interview with new Johnston Press boss Ashley Highfield (pictured) by Ray Snoddy in the latest issue of InPublishing which is also online.

Highfield tells Snoddy: “The fundamental aspect of the business is that every newspaper in the group has a healthy margin over 20 per cent and all up the business is very profitable. The challenge is, can you migrate that business into the digital realm quickly enough before profits decline.”

Highfield's appointement as Johnston chief executive last year raised eyebrows because he has no newspaper experience but had made his name in digital working for the BBC and Microsoft.

He tells Snoddy: “Yes I have absolutely no previous newspaper experience but the board had already made the decision that the future of Johnston Press lay in moving the organisation beyond print and that was explained to me in the first sentence.

“Not closing down print but moving beyond an almost entirely solus print operation.”

Snoddy says it is believed that the name of Ashley Highfield was raised the last time Johnston was looking for a new chief executive two years ago but the former chairman Freddy Johnston, then on the board, argued that the job should go to someone with newspaper experience. Highfield was never contacted and the job went instead to John Fry.

Highfield tells Snoddy: “I have learned a great deal from the BBC and Microsoft about the importance of process. Microsoft was particularly instructive. There was a reason why it’s the world’s most profitable company because it manages itself so well and so effectively and I am certainly hoping to bring across that discipline into my current job.”

Snoddy asks: "That presumably means more jobs will go at Johnston Press?"

He adds: "Too early to comment on that insists Highfield, although for 2011, like-for-like cost savings are expected to total £20 million - a process that is likely to continue."

As for the future, Highfield says: “I think within three years, I would expect all our titles, our brands to have a healthy, growing audience when looked at across print and online and to be profitable.

“I would also expect in three years to have confounded those who said this was a sunset industry and, along the way, thus transforming the share price."

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