Media: Tarzan: the sequel

You can't keep a good man down for long, and Michael Heseltine is now applying his brand of energy to the world of publishing
Michael Heseltine is not a man to embrace retirement or idleness with a happy heart. So when his political career came to an abrupt halt with the 1997 election, he immediately turned his energies to his publishing company, Haymarket. Now, deeply ensconced in business, the lion is roaring again.

The departure of four Haymarket Publishing executives last week, on a New York-bound Jumbo jet, provides a clue as to what Heseltine is planning. The four are off to start a US edition of the company's trade paper, PR Week.

The US venture coincides with the launch of a new fortnightly Haymarket title covering IT training, a spectacular 30th birthday edition of the flagship title Campaign, and city gossip of imminent acquisitions in the Far East. With Heseltine himself back in charge, it is hardly the same Haymarket that has for years cultivated a position as the sleepiest, though highly profitable, specialist publisher in town.

Michael Heseltine faced a choice after losing office last year - stay active in politics, take a handful of company directorships, or return to the company that has been the basis of his fortune. He opted for the latter and has, by all accounts, thrown himself into it with a vengeance.

"He is here nearly every day, and is very ambitious for the company," says one of his senior colleagues. "It's all go, go, go," says another. "He is totally leading the charge."

Heseltine says he opted to rejoin Haymarket simply because of his ownership of it: "There is no point working for someone else if you already have a a large shareholding in your own company." He seems genuinely excited by the opportunity to advance the company further.

Haymarket's original success was built largely on producing trade titles that looked as swish as the best consumer ones, and pioneering the recruitment advertising market. There was even some critical success: in the Sixties, the company produced the men's consumer title Town, which many believe was ahead of its time, with its focus on male fashion.

But with Heseltine away in the Eighties, the company was less dynamic and, although a profitable stable of 40 titles was developed, there was none of the same pioneering zeal. Colleagues say Heseltine now appears determined to return it to its former pre-eminence.

One well-placed colleague says Heseltine wants to "double the size of the company in 10 years". Heseltine does not deny the claim, saying that it is "realistic", and accepting that he is "very ambitious" for the company.

He did not waste much time on his arrival. There was a reorganisation that saw the departure of the chief executive, Paul Camp, and the recruitment of an ex-colleague of Heseltine's from Whitehall, Alan Kemp, as business development director. Heseltine also bought more shares from his fellow directors, taking his family holding to 78 per cent of the company. He is now a hands-on member of the team, liaising with editors and developing ideas. Nicholas Coleridge, managing director at Conde Nast, says: "I think he really relishes being back in publishing, and seems to be very well informed. The editors like to have him around, as he brings a real buccaneering dash to the company."

The New York move is his first major one - and a brave one. Haymarket's research suggests that there is a niche in the US market for PR Week - and the company has staked more than a million pounds on its belief. The Far East market is also being explored, with some reports of Heseltine being interested in investing in China. He will not be drawn on such matters, but says, broadly, that there are opportunities in the Far East to copy the success that the company has had here - by producing high-quality, specialist publications.

Heseltine says he will not float Haymarket, and so must keep generating profits to finance further borrowing in order to expand. "We are negotiating in a range of fields to build on the strengths we have got," he says.

The company is considering UK launches for new titles in each of the four divisions: consumer, business, medical and marketing. Kemp expects the company to invest "several millions" a year in launches: "A much faster rate than in the past". He also adds that there will also be expansion on to the Internet and into digital TV.

Haymarket is already worth an estimated pounds 300m, so neither Heseltine nor his family need ever be short of cash. Some have asked what is the point of working so hard, and perhaps risking his health, to add more millions to the value of the company. His colleagues think it unlikely that he is simply fattening it up to sell it.

The accepted theory seems to be that Heseltine wants to make his mark in publishing, in the way that he did in politics. "He is a showman, and he wants to go out in a blaze of glory," says an insider.

It is also, of course, worth noting that his son, Rupert, is one of the four executives on the plane to New York; the idea of starting a media dynasty may appeal.