Last week, MediaWorks continued its restructuring process by announcing it would operate one newsroom across its TV, radio and online assets, with Mark Jennings taking on the top role. It also announced the integration of digital across the business and, as a result of these changes, the roles of TV chief executive Paul Maher and head of interactive Siobhan McKenna were disestablished. Chief executive Mark Weldon said there would be no more job losses in TV and interactive. But two more long-serving senior MediaWorks staff members are also departing: senior legal counsel/company secretary Clare Bradley, who has been with the company since 2000, and chief financial officer and director of technology Peter Crossan, who has been with the company since 1999.
When asked yesterday whether Bradley was leaving, she said she was not in a position to discuss it and referred us to group head of corporate communications Rachel Lorimer. Bradley has managed all HR, corporate governance and legal issues, but it’s thought those roles were split into corporate counsel and chief people officer. Rather than stay on in one of the roles, she decided to leave.
Crossan’s role as director of technology was disestablished when Tom Cotter joined the company as chief information and product officer a few months ago and rather than take the smaller CFO role, he also decided to leave. Cotter is now responsible for delivery and design of all IT and IT-related products across the group (Andrew Szusterman was also named group entertainment content director across the group and Liz Fraser was named group head of revenue). So since Weldon was appointed as the new chief executive in August, most of MediaWorks’ executive team have now left (it’s thought Maher was offered a group role but decided against it). It’s thought these senior staff changes weren’t mentioned in last week’s release because they both Bradley and Crossan asked for their departures not to be made public.
UPDATE: Lorimer sent through this comment: “MediaWorks has signalled a clear strategic direction of travel to grow the business. The organisational structure is being transformed to follow this strategy. The changes have resulted in the promotion of current staff with extensive institutional and/or sector knowledge to the group executive team: Mark Jennings, Liz Fraser and Andrew Szusterman. Some senior staff have decided to leave the company. Paul Maher, Siobhan McKenna, Clare Bradley and Peter Crossan have made significant contributions to MediaWorks and we wish them all the best.”
Lorimer says it is currently recruiting for the CFO, chief people officer and corporate counsel roles.
At this stage, Wendy Palmer remains the chief executive of MediaWorks Radio, which, at a time when roles are being disestablished and various strands are being merged as part of its group strategy, could either be seen as an anomaly or as an endorsement of that division’s impressive performance in recent years (one of its main competitors NZME is currently undergoing a similar transformation as it attempts to bring its radio and publishing assets closer together). When asked whether head of TV and radio roles will remain, Lorimer says the final executive structure has yet to be finalised.
MediaWorks has long been seen as a Kiwi battler that has done things on the smell of an oily rag in comparison to its well-funded competitors. And that seemed to create a sense of loyalty among staff. Previous chief executive Sussan Turner was well-regarded and stuck to her promise of no job losses during the receivership (some find it slightly ironic that the cuts are coming now after weathering that particular storm). But Weldon—and the new board in the background—has certainly made his presence felt since arriving and, according to one MediaWorks source, he has changed the culture markedly (we heard Christmas presents for staff had been canned this year and TV3’s 25th anniversary party doubled as the work Christmas party, but Lorimer says something is being worked on for the new year in terms of gifts and each department still gets an allocation per staff member to spend on their own party).
A source who was a shareholder and corporate member of NZX during Weldon’s time there said he was a “driven, particularly hard working person”, but was “a tad maverick in his approach to business”.
“He employed a like-minded management, some who did not stay the distance and he was a tad autocratic. He was successful for the shareholders and the wider market as before his time the company had stagnated.”
It’s thought Weldon has been fairly hands-on with the strategy behind Paul Henry’s new cross-media experiment set to start next year and has also got involved in creative decisions around promotional material for TV3’s recent rebrand. Having the chief executive involved in the day-to-day running of a business can sometimes be beneficial. Steve Jobs was famously autocratic and meticulous and that worked out pretty well for Apple. But that was based on a lot of experience. Weldon has openly admitted he doesn’t know the media business very well, and, with all these executive departures, a lot of institutional knowledge has left the building recently.
In the corporate world, a dash of ruthlessness is often seen as a good trait—as Jon Ronson’s book The Psychopath Test, and in particular, the story of “turnaround specialist and professional downsizer” Al Dunlap, shows—because good leaders need to make tough decisions for the benefit of the organisation, rather than the benefit of individuals. Change is required if businesses hope to adapt to new circumstances and many legacy media organisations are currently dealing with that. But too much change all at once can be dangerous. It remains to be seen which side of the ledger MediaWorks will end up on.