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Those pesky markets

Recent speculation about Future CEO Zillah Byng-Thorne has hit the company’s share price.

By James Evelegh

Those pesky markets

On Sunday, the following headline appeared on the Sky News website: ‘FourFourTwo publisher Future to kick off hunt for CEO successor’.

The report said: “Sky News has learnt that Zillah Byng-Thorne, Future’s chief executive since April 2014, has informed the company’s chairman that she plans to retire … in the next 18 months.”

The report ended with: “A spokesperson for Future said on Saturday that the company did not “comment on speculation” about the future of its CEO.”

Well, that didn't last long.

On Tuesday, the publisher put out the following: “Future plc … notes the recent press speculation and share price movement and is providing the following clarification.”

“Future made it clear in last year’s annual report that CEO succession planning was an ongoing focus of the Board and Nomination Committee. Zillah Byng-Thorne, CEO, joined the business in November 2013 and is approaching 9 years at the Group. Zillah remains committed to the business, and has not resigned, however she has informally indicated that she would like to step down by the end of 2023.”

Later on Tuesday, Mark Sweney reported in the Guardian: “Future … has seen more than £300m wiped off its market value after the company said that chief executive Zillah Byng-Thorne is to step down.”

Wow! That’s harsh.

Unless I’ve missed something, none of Future’s many brands has given any indication of changed circumstances - this market fall is purely down to fleeting uncertainty as to who will be in the hotseat at Future in a year’s time.

I’m not usually one to quote Boris Johnson, but in what passed for a resignation statement in July, he said: “When the herd moves, it moves”.

When the markets get the slightest whiff that an iron grip on senior appointments is not being maintained, they panic.

I suppose the only lesson to draw is the need for extremely tight news management when dealing with the markets. The first time they should hear about a change in CEO is the day the new one is appointed.

I hope they calm down soon, because having acquired TI Media and Dennis, amongst many others in the last few years, the company accounts for a sizable chunk of UK publishing.

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