Dame Marjorie Scardino, the first woman chief executive of a FTSE 100 company, resigned yesterday after more than 15 years at the helm of Pearson, the owner of the Financial Times and Penguin Books.
Dame Marjorie, 65, one of the most respected bosses in the City after tripling the size of the business during her reign, said "it felt like the right time for everybody". John Fallon, Pearson's chief executive of international education, will succeed her on 1 January. Her departure will revive speculation that Pearson could sell the Financial Times. Scardino famously said a decade ago that the paper would be sold "over my dead body".
But Mr Fallon played down such talk, saying: "The FT is a highly valued and very valuable part of Pearson." Under Scardino's leadership, Pearson has changed radically from being a conglomerate with a diverse range of print, entertainment and banking assets into a company focused on digital and services.
She tripled annual sales to £6bn and profits hit a record high of £942m last year as she pushed the company into education and fast-growing emerging markets such as China and Brazil. More than two-thirds of profits now come from education. Dame Marjorie said: "I'm most proud of our performance and our culture. That's what makes this a durable company."
She has no plans to retire. "I think I'd like to work a bit more and I've got a few ideas," she said, referring to her charitable work for the MacArthur Foundation and Oxfam. She is also a vice-chairman of mobile giant Nokia. The news of her resignation came as a surprise, but chairman Glen Moreno said he began planning the succession two years ago, adding: "Pearson is a 168-year-old company that has been totally transformed under Marjorie's leadership."
The US-born businesswoman was made a dame in 2003, soon after she took British citizenship.
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