Pride and acrimony run deep as Urry takes gamble on Full House

The
wildlife film Roar: Lions of the Kalahari concerns a once great, now
rather knackered old lion. He has ruled his pride of lionesses for many
years until a younger male pitches up, vanquishes the old lion and
forces him from his watering hole to die in the bush alone.

It’s
a rather poignant essay in the transience of power. But what if the old
lion is not ready to die? Could he squire some new lionesses at the
next watering hole? Like lions, chief executives are often unwilling to
leave just because it suits their young successors to have them out of
the way. So clever companies put them on the board or devise pleasant
sinecures to keep them in the loop yet out of mischief.

Not
content to ride around his country estate on his mini-tractor, Terry
Mansfield, 66, former md of The National Magazine Company, still serves
his parent company, the Hearst Corporation, as a consultant from a
lovely office on Sloane Street. He is a fixer, a power-luncher, a
publishing factotum, yet also still gets a kick from collaborating with
younger colleagues.

He is lucky to work for Americans who are
less fixated with retirement dates: Si Newhouse, in his 70s, still
rules Condé Nast. For the publishing elite whose whole lives have been
defined by work and have often sacrificed much else to succeed, why
would they go gently?

Alan Urry retired as managing director of H
Bauer publishing last year after running the company since it arrived
in Britain 17 years ago.

He presided over Bauer becoming a
formidable mass-market operator, launching among others, Bella, which
at its peak sold more than one million, and Take a Break, which still
defies publishing gravity with its last ABC of 1,222,774.

With
the PPA’s prestigious Marcus Morris Award for longstanding contribution
to publishing and a very considerable golden goodbye from Bauer, Urry
could have retired to Berkshire with dignity and means. But a man can
only play so much golf. Urry wanted to stay in the business: he missed
the craic, his mates in distribution, the corporate jollies. And since
Bauer pays him no pension (they don’t believe in them), has no board
for him to sit on (because they are a private company) and the new md
Dave Goodchild cut Urry adrift once he’d bagged his job, Urry felt
free, at 66, to look elsewhere.

His decision to become chief
executive of Burda as it enters the UK this month with its first
serious launch, Full House, is seen at Bauer as “highly ungracious”, a
monumental betrayal.

Urry’s career was forged by a close personal
bond with USbased Bauer president Konnie Wiederholz. Although Alan was
British md, it was Konnie who defined editorial direction here,
steaming over to London every month for a series of terrifying meetings.

Alan’s job was to smooth ruffled feathers and impose Konnie’s will.

The
duo had a decidedly un-PC management style based on many salty private
jokes. One obsession was with timing how long it took editors to visit
the lavatory. I once returned to the restaurant table to see Konnie
checking Alan’s watch. “Two minutes, 30 seconds,” he said. “Good, but
not as fast as [a fellow editor]. She’s my one-minute pisser.” I’m
guessing you don’t get this at Condé Nast.

A few years ago the
air miles and three-bottle lunches finally took their toll on Konnie’s
ticker. Major heart surgery clipped his wings and since then Bauer UK
has been more autonomous and, consequently, less sure-footed.

Wiederholz has refused to speak to Urry since he joined Burda, which is said to hurt him deeply.

But
can he be surprised? Not only is Burda one of Bauer’s principal rivals
in Germany, but Full House – celebrity coverage aside – is perceived as
a copycat of Take a Break and Burda filched many Bauer staff, including
editor Carl Styrants and art director Graham Jones to create it.

With former Bauer publisher Simon Hesling as Burda md, its High Holborn offices feel like Bauer-in-exile.

Hesling
is smart, ambitious and no doubt feels he should have been made Bauer
md after Alan. But since he spent his recent career in Germany (for
Bauer) and Australia (for ACP), his profile in the UK is muted.
Although a major fish in Europe with a €2bn turnover, Burda is a minnow
among sharks in Britain. Hesling needed Urry’s name for Burda to stand
a chance of getting established. Urry has told old colleagues his
office will be bars, restaurants and clubs where he will charm the
retail news trade.

Which is ironic since Burda, in keeping Full
House’s launch secret, has irritated retailers. When Herr Doctor Hubert
Burda flew over from Germany in his private jet for a photo op with a
Southampton newsagent, the retailer later moaned that Full House had
been thrust upon him at late notice with no information. In this year
of many launches, getting your mag racked correctly is crucial. Burda
has lost goodwill and didn’t even buy display space, so Full House can
be found among the puzzle titles (that bingo-y name doesn’t help) as
often as with the women’s weeklies.

The editorial is a fair copy of Take a Break, with a slightly funkier design.

Gail Porter and Nell McAndrew are odd cover models for a women’s mag.

But
since Full House does not want to compete with the paparazzi-led titles
such as Closer and believes using soap stars would confuse it with the
TV mags, all it has left are F-listers like Carole Smillie and Sherrie
Hewson (er, who?) chatting pleasantly about their kids or their first
house. “Famous folk are ever so nice and just like us,” is Full House’s
schtick.

But Herr Dr Burda should not be underestimated. Unlike
Herr Bauer, who rarely leaves the privacy of his home, Burda is a
colourful and philanthropic public figure in Germany, hosting the
glitzy Bambi awards for various endeavours from sports and showbiz to
charity. The Burda annual report shows him posing with Steven
Spielberg, a fellow supporter of the Shoah Foundation to remember
victims of the Holocaust.

He is a major art collector and likes to display his treasures on his company walls for his staff to enjoy.

And
with 239 titles in 19 countries including German Elle, InStyle and
Playboy, plus mass-market titles like Freizeit Revue, the Herr Doctor
has very deep pockets. Which he might just need. The true-life market
is currently very buoyant – IPC’s Pick Me Up is selling well, Take a
Break, That’s Life! and Chat had healthy recent ABCs – but in a few
weeks Burda will have burned £6m on TV campaigns and Full House will
have to survive at its 70p full cover price.

For that old lion Alan Urry – without Konnie to guide him – this will be a question of pride.

Janice Turner is a columnist on The Times and a former Bauer editor

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