Norman arrives at ITV with 'perfect timing'

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The Independent Online

"Archie won't be coming into ITV without a plan," said a friend and one-time colleague of the former Asda chief, Archie Norman, who was appointed chairman of the struggling broadcaster ITV last week.

"He is sharp and there is no doubt in my mind he knows exactly who he wants to be chief executive. And with the Conservatives likely to be back in power next year, the timing of his arrival is perfect."

Certainly "Archie" has a contacts book bursting at the seams with the most influential names to have plied their trade in the City and Westminster in the past few decades.

But Mr Norman has already rebutted suggestions that he has been brought in as an expensive lobbyist for what he described as an "irresistible challenge" – a challenge that will yield him £300,000 a year for the one-day-a-week role, as well as £219,000 in shares for at least three years. Not that he needs the money.

After becoming McKinsey's youngest partner at 29, he amassed a personal fortune estimated to be as much as £20m – boosted by giant salaries at Kingfisher and then Asda, which was sold to America's Wal-Mart during his tenure. He scooped nearly £6m on the sale of Asda alone.

Mr Norman has been ploughing his furrow in the City, working for a private-equity firm that owns HSS, the tool hire firm, and is deputy chairman of Australian retailer Coles. He also acts as adviser to Lazard, the investment bank, which in turn advises ITV on corporate activities.

Perhaps the only blot on Mr Norman's CV is his time as a Conservative MP. High office eluded him and he ruffled a few feathers – with Lord Parkinson memorably swiping: "Just because Asda check-out girls smile at him, he thinks he's got the common touch." Mr Norman left Parliament in 2005.

"I've got some good connections on both sides of the political divide, but I'm not expecting any special favours," he said last week.

If the betting markets are to be believed, then the problem of appointing a chief executive is likely to be solved quite soon too.

Tony Ball, the former chief executive at Sky who turned the ITV chief executive role down earlier in the year, is now a shoo-in for the top job at 5-4 with the bookie PaddyPower.

But others think that John Cresswell, currently the chief operating officer at ITV, is a more-likely appointment now that Mr Norman has taken the chairmanship.

"Now that ITV has its big hitter in Archie Norman, the need to get a dominant figure in the shape of someone like Tony Ball has probably lessened," says Sam Hart, a media analyst at the broker Charles Stanley.

"Cresswell isn't a name familiar to people outside media circles but I think he is a safe pair of hands."

But solving the leadership problem at ITV is just one aspect of Mr Norman's role, a role already turned down by the likes of BMI founder Sir Michael Bishop and Sir Crispin Davis earlier this year.

Sky's near 18 per cent stake in ITV is an issue yet to be resolved, while the problem of contract rights renewal and advertisers is another to be remedied.

"But the biggest issue remains the balance sheet," says Mr Hart. "The short-term, one-year-to-18-month situation is OK, but there needs to be a further reduction in debt and a rights issue is really the only way to wipe the slate clean."

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