Thursday 22 February 2018

Scardino departure at Pearson sparks speculation of 'FT' sale

Marjorie Scardino is one of the longest serving bosses of a FTSE company.
Marjorie Scardino is one of the longest serving bosses of a FTSE company.

Kate Holton

PEARSON chief executive Marjorie Scardino will step down after 16 years, potentially clearing the way for her successor at the global educational and media group to sell the 'Financial Times' newspaper.

The first female chief executive of a FTSE 100 company had previously declared that the famous pink-paged 'FT' title would only be sold "over my dead body". The 'FT' Group also holds a 50pc stake in the 'Economist'.

She will step down at the end of the year to be replaced by John Fallon, the chief executive of Pearson's international education division since 2008.

Analysts said the choice showed where the group's priorities lie and that the 50-year-old Mr Fallon would now have to also focus on the large education business in the US, which has been hit by tight school budgets.

"Ms Scardino was a big fan of the 'FT' and resisted attempts to sell the business," Ian Whittaker at Liberum said. "We see John Fallon as having no emotional commitment to the division. We value the FT Group at about £770m."

Shares in the group were down 0.6pc, slightly underperforming a flat FTSE Index.

Both Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters have been linked with a purchase of the 'FT' Group in the last year, but analysts note that Pearson has a strong balance sheet and would only need to sell the 'FT' if it needed the money for a large and transformational deal.

Although the FT Group has succeeded in growing digital sales and subscription revenues, a sale of the title would still fit with the group's wider strategy of moving away from volatile advertising revenues.

Investors could also question the future of the book group Penguin within the wider firm as some analysts believe it also fails to support the growth of the dominant education division.

Ms Scardino, one of the longest-serving bosses of a FTSE company, transformed a diverse set of assets into a successful global educational and media business. (Reuters)

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