Donovan steps down from 'Irish Times'
Managing director retires after controversial tenure
Published 06/02/2010 | 05:00
THE managing director who spearheaded the controversial "investment and diversification" strategy of 'The Irish Times' has stepped down.
The immediate retirement of Maeve Donovan was confirmed in a statement issued by the newspaper yesterday.
The news comes 32 years after Ms Donovan joined the paper and eight years after she acceded to the managing director's chair.
Board sources last night described her retirement as an "entirely planned" personal decision, while 55-year-old Ms Donovan told the Irish Independent she'd "always" intended to step down around now.
Ms Donovan's tenure as managing director began with a substantial re-organisation of the core newspaper business, but she is best known for the "investment and diversification" strategy pursued more recently.
Under that strategy, 'The Irish Times' spent €50m on property website myhome.ie at the peak of the boom and also bought substantial stakes in 'The Gloss' magazine, Dublin freesheet 'Metro' and multi-city radio station 4fm.
Those joint ventures and subsidiaries triggered more than €26m of losses in 2008 and have been slammed by the newspaper's own journalists, who last year urged their company to "urgently review the flawed investment and diversification strategy".
Asked if she regretted any of the investments, Ms Donovan replied: "Oh God, no."
"It was imperative for the business to broaden its spread," she added, "but it does take time to build (profits)."
The myhome.ie investment has come in for the bulk of the criticism, but Ms Donovan insisted that while she "would like to have paid less for it", it was a good long-term investment.
"The property sector will be of continuing importance to our business and newspapers need to be in that online space," she stressed.
Her sentiments were echoed by 'The Irish Times' chairman David Went, who yesterday praised Ms Donovan for broadening the company's portfolio, saying the expansion coupled with the restructuring "positioned the 'The Irish Times' well in the current economic climate".
Ms Donovan's remuneration, which peaked at €399,000 in 2008, has also attracted much comment. The departing executive dismissed suggestions she was in line for an eye-watering 'golden handshake'. "It (my package) will be nothing out of the ordinary at all," she said.
Another controversial aspect of Ms Donovan's tenure was an alleged rift between the managing director and her editor, Geraldine Kennedy.
Ms Donovan denied suggestions of serious clashes but said "a natural and healthy tension" was "part of any media organisation". Asked about her future and reasons for stepping down, Ms Donovan said she was planning to pursue the Institute of Director's Chartered Directors Programme and spend more time with her recently retired husband.
'The Irish Times' plans to fill the vacancy internally and expects to appoint a successor in a "month to six weeks", sources confirmed.
Deputy managing director Liam Kavanagh is understood to be a front-runner, although a number of "very strong candidates" are being considered.
The successful applicant will take over the 'The Irish Times' at one of the most challenging times in the paper's 125-year history.
The paper booked bottom-line losses of €95m in 2008, after a €65m pension fund hit, a collapse in advertising revenue, multi-million euro restructuring costs and €26m of investment write-downs.
In a report accompanying that year's accounts, Ms Donovan predicted a "cash loss" of between €10m and €11m in 2009, as she said the company would take another wave of restructuring costs and continue to struggle with advertising revenue.