Three Johnston Press directors step down from board

Three non-executive members of the Johnston Press board have announced their departures.

Johnston publishes 18 daily newspapers and 300 weekly titles and is the UK’s second biggest regional newspaper publisher – after Trinity Mirror.

Chairman Roger Parry, 55, has informed the board that he intends to retire as a director at the company’s next AGM on 24 April.

He will hand over the chairmanship to Ian Russell on 12 March, the day after the Johnston announces its annual results for 2008.

Russell, 56, is already a non-executive director for Johnston Press and joined the board in 2007.

He is a former chief executive and finance director of Scottish Power and is a director of JP Morgan Fleming Mercantile Trust, chairman of Advanced Power AG and chairman of Remploy.

Parry has been on the board for 12 years, eight of which as chairman, and has been at the company through a period of dramatic growth as it has expanded through acquisition.

Over the last year the Johnston Press share price has plunged dramatically as falling advertising has hit the regional press.

Investors are also particularly concerned about the company’s ability to refinance its current debt total of £465m, which comes to the end of its fixed term in 2010 and will therefore will require refinancing this year.

The Johnston Press share price stood at 8.75p at the time of writing – compared to a high of over £5 a share three years ago.

Despite its problems, Johnston Press was highly profitable in the first half of the current financial year – delivering profits of £81.6m on revenue of £293m.

Parry steps down after appointing former Archant boss John Fry as chief executive. Fry took over from Tim Bowdler at the beginning of this year.

Johnston Press senior independent director Peter Cawdron said: ‘The board is immensely grateful to Roger for his contribution during the last 12 years, especially the eight years as chairman, a period which has seen the substantial expansion of the company to become the second largest regional newspaper publisher in the UK and the largest publisher of weekly newspapers in the Republic of Ireland. We wish him well with his future ventures.”

Parry said: ‘Johnston Press now has a new chief executive in place, a successful rights issue was completed in 2008 and a major restructuring programme has been approved by the board and is well underway.

‘The past 12 years have been characterised by industry consolidation. The last year has been about responding to the recession. This will be the focus in the immediate term, together with adapting the business to reflect the changing needs of consumers and advertisers.

‘With a new CEO in place it seems an ideal time for me to hand over to Ian to work with John Fry and the Board to address the challenges ahead.”

Non-executive director Simon Waugh is leaving at the end of this month to coincide with his appointment as the first chief executive of the new National Apprenticeship Service. He is currently chairman of the remuneration committee which sets executive pay.

Non-executive director Gavin Patterson joined the company in July 2008 and will be leaving at the AGM on 24 April.

Chairman Parry said: ‘Gavin and I discussed his board role before his recent significant promotion as Chief Executive of BT Retail and I fully understand that the new, additional calls on his time make his role as a non-executive director of Johnston Press difficult.”

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