Six weeks into her chief executive role at Future, Stevie Spring announced how ‘encumbered by knowledge’she was of the magazines business. A year later it is clear she learnt fast. Future recently announced interim pre-tax profits of £8.6m, with online ad revenues up 66 per cent and its net debt down more than 20 per cent to £29.1m.
The results pushed the Bath-based group’s share price up by 3p to 42.5p. In the year since Future dumped its CEO Greg Ingram for Spring there have been cover price cuts, more than 20 titles redesigned and 62 closed, new contracts were negotiated on production processes and property leases in London and the training budget increased by 40 per cent.
‘When I came in a year ago we had five consecutive profit warnings, we’d overpaid for a lot of acquisitions, we’d under-delivered against that and the entire management team had their eye off the ball regarding the business,’said Spring. ‘We were one month away from another profit warning and two months away from having to refinance. So to have stood up and said our first half-year has over delivered against every expectation of us is a fantastic testament to the work 1,400 people have done at Future.”
Spring refused to be drawn on speculation that she was being headhunted for the CEO role at Emap, but having spent the six previous years as CEO of the UK’s biggest outdoor advertising company, Clear Channel, industry experts say her outsider status is a great strength.
Claire Beale, editor of advertising trade title Campaign, said Spring has ‘cut a swathe through some ingrained practices that were very tired and out of date”. She added: ‘She’s got rid of people and made some tough decisions about magazine closures. Those types of things are much easier to do if you are coming in from the outside. I can understand why Emap might want to buy in that sort of clear vision to cut through history and wipe the slate clean; to shape the business for the new century.”
‘She’s a woman with balls to say what she thinks,’said Beale. ‘And she’s not afraid to rock the boat and she doesn’t really care what people think of her – she just says what she thinks is right.’
Grant Millar, joint managing director of media buyer Viseum, said Emap needed a strong personality at its helm. ‘It’s one of the most multimedia organisations in the UK, which comes with an enormous amount of complexity and a great deal of fragility about the future. Someone who’s quite a bombastic personality is probably a very powerful asset for any
company like Emap or any major publishing company with some of those traits.”