By Zoe Smith and Dominic Ponsford
New Sunday Telegraph editor Patience Wheatcroft’s exit from The Times has been as amicable as Sarah Sands’ sacking from the Telegraph Group was apparently otherwise.
While not a word of praise for Sands was included in the Telegraph Group’s official notice of her departure on Monday, Times editor Robert Thomson was fulsome in his praise for the paper’s departing business editor.
He said Wheatcroft had "led a team of talented reporters that has established The Times as the most influential business newspaper in Britain. The depth of coverage and the breadth of expertise is unmatched, and Patience has done an excellent job in developing the team and the section."
Wheatcroft, 54, a mother-of-three like Sands, has a background purely in serious financial journalism — rather than Sands’ broader experience in features and editing a Saturday paper.
She learned her trade at the Daily Mail under the paper’s legendary City editor Patrick Sergeant, and also worked at the Sunday Times and Mail on Sunday before joining The Times, where she has been business editor since 1997.
From 1988 to 1992 she was consultant editor of Retail Week, which she launched with her husband, Tony Salter.
Ian McGarrigle, now editorial director and brand director at the magazine, remembers her as an exacting taskmaster.
He said: "We had to deliver exclusives all the time, she wanted Fleet Street standards of journalism, so she was always highly demanding in that sense. She was highly focused and brought fantastic high-level contacts to the paper, which really helped set Retail Week up from day one. It had enormous credibility. She was a tough editor to work for, but actually very fair. She was very demanding, but everyone that worked with her learnt a huge amount as a result of that."
Wheatcroft was brought to The Times by editor Peter Stothard and is described in the paper’s official history as one of the "two most important appointments" of his 10-year editorship — along with William Rees-Mogg.
Times historian Graham Stewart said: "Wheatcroft began a quiet revolution on the business pages, bringing the FT under intensive challenge in the home market for the first time in two decades."
Stothard said this week: "When I was looking for a business editor in 1997 I was very keen to tempt her out of her comfortable retirement. [Wheatcroft had been taking time out to have children].
I never ever regretted it, it was one of the best appointments I ever made.
"She is a brilliant writing editor. The tradition of City editors in Fleet Street, and it still remains, is that unlike all the other department heads these days, they spend their morning commissioning stuff and their afternoon writing. They all write a daily column. It’s really quite a difficult job. It requires old-fashioned newspaper editing skills. Patience is a writing editor and a writer first. That’s what attracted me to her first of all.
There is a very small pool to pick such people, and I don’t think the choice has become any easier these days when the demands of editing are greater."
He added: "She’s a great team builder.
She’s very respected by her contacts in a world which doesn’t always give respect to journalists easily. Most importantly for the Telegraph she’s a genuine conservative.
She’s loved by journalists, respected by contacts and feared by New Labour. Those are pretty good credentials for editing a Telegraph paper, I would have thought.
"Obviously the challenge for her will be the lighter side of Sunday papers.
However, when I first arrived at the Sunday Times she was actually writing its business diary, so she does have a light touch."
Times colleague Mary-Ann Sieghart said: "She’s very bright, very incisive, has strong opinions and confidence.
She’s got a strong personality. She’s very feisty and full of opinions, both of which are good for being an editor.
I can see the point in picking a woman who can bring both a female perspective to the paper, but who also has a very tough analytical brain like Patience has, being steeped in business and politics. She brings the best of both worlds really."
Wheatcroft’s professional awards include the Decade of Excellence prize in the 2002 Business Journalist of the Year awards, and the 2001 Harold Wincott senior financial journalist of the year award.
Press Gazette found no one with a bad word to say about her among her professional rivals.
Observer business editor Frank Kane said: "I have nothing but fantastic views of her. I think she’s a fantastic business editor.
"I think her achievements have been two-fold and the one depended on the other. Her great achievement was that she persuaded News International to put the resources into the business section and they gave her her own front page when it was a broadsheet, and as far as I can tell they haven’t diminished her resources when it became a tabloid.
"It has prominence, it’s well resourced, it has oomph. You open it and it’s easy to find. I know, from my own experience that is a tricky thing to do, to persuade newspaper managements to take business sections seriously."
He added: "I know the Barclays rate her very highly. Knowing the Barclays quite well myself they speak very highly of her and I think she’ll make a real go of it in a different way from Sarah Sands. With Patience I think it will be feminine, but it won’t be fluffy."
Kane made a prediction for the editorship of the Daily Telegraph, still vacant since Martin Newland’s resignation in November: "With the Sunday in safe hands it means William Lewis can be appointed daily editor, which I think will happen and I think Will will make a good job of that once he settles down a bit.
"There aren’t that many [City editors] that have gone in that way. There was Andreas Whittam Smith, who was City editor at the Daily Telegraph, who then went on to become editor, founder and demi-god of The Independent. Now we have two. It’s a very healthy trend."