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Bright Future for Byng-Maddick

FUTURE PUBLISHING has appointed Trader Media Group Zillah Byng-Maddick as CFO after incumbent Graham Harding left to “pursue other career opportunities”.

Harding leaves after a 13-year stint with Future that saw him assume the CFO post in 2010. His departure comes as the company embarks on a restructuring drive which reportedly will see 55 roles made redundant to cut costs.

It is uncertain times for Future staff – but Byng-Maddick has publishing experience, joining from the publisher of brands including Auto Trader where she held the CFO post from 2009 to 2012, while she served as interim CEO from 2012 to 2013.
Her ability to steer a course through the choppy waters of publishing, based on Trader Media’s successful transition to online from print, is sorely needed. Future said in its July interim management statement that it “was not satisfied” with the pace of improvement after trading for the three months to June was “below expectation”.

It is a daunting task, and CEO Michael Wood was in no mood to play down expectations as he welcomed Byng-Maddick, saying “she will help transform Future, accelerating the pace of change, which is key to us building a more profitable digital business”.

The company will accelerate its cost-cutting programme to save up to £2.5m in the coming year. It is to continue until the cost base, geared to print, is better aligned with the changing business.

Byng-Maddick lists CFO posts with gym group Fitness First and alcohol retailer Thresher Group in her portfolio, while she has also held a non-executive directorship with Gondola Holdings, along with roles with General Electric, Waterstones, HMV and Nestlé.

Founded in 1985, Bath-based Future boasts 51 million international consumers, and publishes titles across diverse niches. Most notably, its brands include Total Film, Total Guitar, T3, PC Gamer and the official magazines for PlayStation, Nintendo and Xbox.
The company has operations in the UK, US and Australia, creating more than 200 publications, apps, websites and events. The publisher proudly claims to have sold 24 million magazines last year – around 45 per minute – in a climate moving steadily away from physical publications.

Despite its print focus, it has produced its own app-creation software, called FutureFolio. Given those statistics, Future’s future ought to be rosy.

But even with the big-name brands, Future’s share price has suffered in 2013, dropping about a total of eight points between its peak in March and the beginning of October this year. However, something of a recovery has accompanied the arrival of Byng-Maddick, as it jumped three points in just two days, leaving the trading price at the time of writing at 16.5p per share.

It means the board expects trading to be “in line with expectations”, with “encouraging momentum across all trading areas” and advertising bookings in the first quarter of 2014 up 30%.

The numbers  look encouraging given the state of publishing, with iconic titles such as Newsweek disappearing from the shelves.

In its October media expansion report, Grant Thornton says M&A is the way forward for many in the industry, as overseas markets is where the growth potential lies. In particular, Brazil, India and the UAE are earmarked for publishing booms. China and the US remain strong, too, although issues with China’s press freedom do present an obstacle to many prospective investors.

But remaining UK-focused is likely to prove an impediment for publishers, according to the report, so Future’s presence in the US and Australia is likely to stand it in good stead. Those thoughts, though, will not be at the forefront of Byng-Maddick’s mind as she looks to bring a steadying influence to Future after its rather inconsistent 2013.

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