GAVIN O'Reilly yesterday stepped down as chief executive of Independent News & Media, bringing to an end his family's 39-year control of Ireland's largest media company.
He was replaced with immediate effect by Vincent Crowley, the group's chief operating officer. INM said in a stock market announcement that Mr O'Reilly's departure followed a compromise agreement approved by the board of directors.
Mr O'Reilly had been with the company since 1993 and held various senior management roles until his appointment as chief executive three years ago.
"Gavin has led the company with considerable skill and talent, especially through the very complex restructuring in 2009," INM chairman James Osborne said. "Gavin leaves by mutual and amicable agreement and has the great appreciation of the board and that of his colleagues. On behalf of all of INM's stakeholders, I wish to thank Gavin for his contribution to the business."
Mr O'Reilly said it had become clear that recent and public shareholder tensions were proving an "unnecessary distraction" for both him and the company. "After 19 eventful years with the company, it is time for me to pursue new opportunities. The board and I agreed that what the company needs now is a board, management team and shareholder base that is purposefully unified and aligned for the company's immediate challenges and for the many opportunities that exist in the future," he said.
Mr O'Reilly added that he was leaving the company with "mixed emotions" and he thanked his work colleagues and friends across Australasia, Ireland, South Africa and the UK.
Chartered accountant Vincent Crowley is now INM's new chief executive. He was appointed group chief operating officer in November 2009 having been chief executive of Independent News & Media (Ireland) since 2002. He was previously head of APN News & Media in which INM holds a 31.6pc stake. He has sat on the APN Board since March 2009.
"Vincent has the unanimous support of the board," Mr Osborne said.
"He has served the company with distinction for over 20 years. I believe he is well equipped to position the group for the challenges which continue to face the media industry."
Gavin O'Reilly's decision to leave comes after years of boardroom conflict with Denis O'Brien. Mr O'Brien, who is INM's biggest shareholder, has been a strident critic of the company's strategy. He owns 22pc of INM.
The O'Reilly family, which has dominated the company since the early 1970s, has a 13pc stake. In the last year financier Dermot Desmond has also built up a 6pc stake in INM.
It also emerged yesterday that an anonymous buyer has bought a 2pc stake in INM.
Mr O'Reilly's departure comes ahead of INM's annual general meeting in June. Last month, INM posted an operating profit of €75.5m for the 2011 full year. The company's shares closed up 6pc yesterday at 24 cent.
Speaking in Belfast last night, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: "Clearly this is a matter that obviously has been brewing for some time. I don't know all of the details yet, but government in its own way will have a reflection on this in terms of cross-ownership of media."