Now Unlocked: Fairfax, MRN merger done but who’ll end up in charge?

Comment from Peter Saxon. 

Originally published December 22, 2014

It’s been a long time coming but what many have seen as a perfect match made in financial heaven has finally been realised – the ‘registry office’ marriage ceremony has been performed but is yet to be consummated. 

It will be a relief for those on both sides of the negotiation who have been embroiled in this frustratingly long on again off again courtship. 

But some staff may find scant solace this Christmas as they wonder whether they will still have a job with the merged entity next year.

It is a safe bet that many of the cost centres that are currently duplicated will be merged and total employee numbers halved or, at least, dramatically reduced. News rooms, sales departments, finance and even announcing are likely to shed staff. For example, there are opportunities for networking, say, Ray Hadley’s dominant Morning Show from Sydney to Brisbane. Such a move wouldn’t just save one announcer’s salary but that of an EP and others on the Brisbane talk show’s support team while, in all likelihood, growing the audience.

The decision of who stays and who goes has likely been already made but the question still remains as to who will be actually be in charge at the very top. For now, MRN boss Russell Tate has been appointed Executive Chairman of a five person board, but curiously only as an “Interim” measure for 12 months.

Curious also is the fact that Fairfax will own the majority of the merged entity, 54.5%, yet, seemingly will cede control to MRN on what right now is a four person board comprising Adam Lang and Greg Hywood from Fairfax, sitting across the table from MRN’s  John Singleton and Russell Tate, who as Interim Executive Chairman, would be expected to give his team the final say. Some may suggest the toughest negotiations have only just begun.

The fifth director, yet to be appointed, will be an independent,.

Speculation from well placed observers is that this appointment is likely to be made with a view to them becoming the chairperson of the newly formed entity by the time Mr Tate’s Interim position expires. If so, they would look to someone with a high profile, perhaps a female to provide some gender balance to what, at present, is a very blokey board. 

A few names I’ve heard bandied about include Katie Page. The CEO of Radio’s biggest advertiser, Harvey Norman would certainly add marquee value and synergy to the role. But perhaps Fairfax would see Ms Page as being too close to Singo through her husband Gerry Harvey’s horse racing ties.

Janet Albrechtsen certainly has media credentials as a columnist for The Australian and a former board member of the ABC. She currently sits on the board appointments panel for the ABC and SBS. However, she is almost as great a critic of Fairfax as she is of the ABC.

Given that the board is already top heavy with media savvy directors, a better choice may be someone with expertise in, say, finance. If so, who better than Gail Kelly who recently announced her resignation from the top job at Westpac? If anyone knows how to turn a profit, she does.

 Peter Saxon

Photo credits: Adam Lang: supplied. Russell Tate: Mumbrella.

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