Sunday 20 October 2019

New INM chief McClean to meet staff after reshuffle

New structure brought in in a week of changes, write Fearghal O'Connor and Samantha McCaughren

Chief Executive Officer at Independent News & Media Michael Doorly INM chairman Murdoch MacLennan. Photo: Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney
Chief Executive Officer at Independent News & Media Michael Doorly INM chairman Murdoch MacLennan. Photo: Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Fearghal O'Connor and Samantha McCaughren

Newly-appointed managing director, publishing at Independent News and Media (INM), Richard McClean, is to meet editors and senior commercial executives at the media group next week.

McClean, who was previously managing director of Independent News and Media Limited (Northern Ireland), will hold a central role at the group under a new structure at the company. He will oversee the company's online and print titles, advertising, circulation, printing and events.

Former Telegraph executive Richard Morgan has been appointed transformation director, while a number of senior INM staff will head up divisions. Among these is the Reach Group, which includes Newspread. It will be headed by Ian Keogh, who has been part of the management team for 10 years.

INM CEO Michael Doorly said in an email to staff that the senior executive team was "organised in this way to lead us through our transition and achieve our strategic and growth objectives".

It was a tumultuous week for INM, with the announcement of major departures from both the management team and the board.

It was announced that editor-in-chief Stephen Rae was to depart, as was board member Paul Connolly, a close associate of INM's largest shareholder Denis O'Brien. There was much speculation around the company's shareholder register too, with the emergence of reports that beef baron Larry Goodman has built a stake.

Last week's events come just a week after the company's 2018 annual general meeting, which had proven to be a more low-key affair than some might have expected.

But it was never likely to match the 2017 AGM for drama. It was during that event, in August 2017, that then INM chief executive Robert Pitt declined to support the re-election of then chairman Leslie Buckley. It was the most public manifestation of the boardroom battles that have culminated in the ODCE's bid to appoint inspectors to INM. Both men have now departed the scene and so the most recent AGM was a chance for the new management team and board to present a calmer demeanor.

But within days, the publishing group was once again back in the news as Rae stepped down from his position at INM after five years in the role. "Since 2013 I have had the privilege and honour to lead the editorial department ​at INM," said Rae in a statement issued by the company. "​Now, having completed my five-year term as group editor​ ​and following a transformation of the group into a digital-focused newsroom and content hub, I am to leave the publishing business in a strong position and hand it over to a team of strong and dynamic editors."

Within an hour of Rae's departure announcement there was another INM announcement: the company informed the stock market that Denis O'Brien's last remaining board nominee, Paul Connolly, was to step down as a director of the company after nine years on the board.

That announcement came as a surprise given it came just days after Connolly had stood for and secured re-election to the board at the previous week's AGM.

The statement said that Connolly had played an "integral role" following the completion of INM's financial restructuring process in 2013.

Chairman Murdoch MacLennan said in a company statement that "while I am very disappointed that Paul has decided to resign at this time, I am hugely grateful for the immense contribution he has made to the company over a significant period of transition. I have valued Paul's experience, knowledge and independent pragmatic counsel as a board member and colleague. His contribution to the board will be greatly missed".

And there was more to come. INM's market value hit a 10-week high last Thursday after it was reported that Larry Goodman had built up a stake of below 3pc in the group in recent weeks.

The share price had fallen below eight cent in mid-April following an application by the State's corporate watchdog for the appointment of inspectors to investigate the conduct of INM's affairs. The Director of Corporate Enforcement, Ian Drennan, has asked the High Court to appoint two inspectors to investigate whether INM's affairs have been conducted in an unlawful manner, following an alleged data breach and other matters.

Drennan had told the court that he was concerned the range of "potentially unlawful conduct" that may have taken place within INM is "extensive" and contends there is a "compelling public interest" for inspectors to be appointed.

The company has opposed that application and has also brought proceedings seeking judicial review of the ODCE's decision to issue the application to appoint inspectors and the court's decision is awaited.

"The board and I take these matters very seriously," said MacLennan. "We have appointed Deloitte to conduct a full investigation and we will continue to co-operate fully and actively with the ODCE and with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner as we have for the last 12 months. The board is, however, gravely concerned that the appointment of an inspector to INM would have a significantly damaging impact on the company and all its stakeholders, including its shareholders, employees, members of its pensions schemes, readers and customers."

Despite the uncertainty of these legal issues, and the high-profile departures last week, INM's share price has risen.

This, it is believed, is largely down to Goodman's stake-building in the company, a move that has added just one more in an already intriguing corporate tale.

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