James Ashton: It's the shareholders, not Sly Bailey, who are to blame for her overdue departure

 

Chief executives gain admiration for lots of things: their strategy, people skills, profit growth. But two aspects guarantee how they linger in the memory: their entrances and exits.

It takes a certain type of boss to judge which jobs to accept. If they can tell the difference between a broken company which can be fixed and one that will only drag them into the mire, then they are almost worth the money upfront.

The same is true at the other end of their stint in charge. That window for calling it a day on their own terms isn't very wide. It's really only the difference between harvesting the best of their strategy and the board spotting they have run out of ideas.

Sly Bailey, who announced her departure this week from newspaper publisher Trinity Mirror, arrived in 2003 in fine style. The media industry was on the up. Profits were rising and the group she inherited had never been properly integrated since the merger that created it in 1999. There was money to play with and costs to strip out.

Ms Bailey devised a three-part strategy: stabilise, revitalise and grow. Nearly a decade on, the growth has been the hard part as the newspaper industry has wrestled with a switch in income on to the internet. She couldn't do much about that. Even now, only 5 per cent of Trinity's revenues come from the web, despite a string of acquisitions.

Was she worth £14m in salary and bonuses since arriving? It's hard to defend, especially as Trinity's share price has slid by 90 per cent over the same period. On the other hand, there aren't many chief executives who get out of bed every morning to face Rupert Murdoch as their main business rival.

The trouble was that Mr Murdoch stopped viewing Ms Bailey and the Daily and Sunday Mirror as serious competition long ago. In a digital world, where different media collide, News International was more interested in using the reach of The Sun to steal advertising income from ITV. Mr Murdoch's parent company, News Corporation, cited the scale of Apple and Google for the reason it wanted to hoover up the rest of BSkyB – before that deal was kiboshed by the phone-hacking scandal.

So should Ms Bailey have left sooner? Of course – and shareholders are culpable for not campaigning for a fresh pair of eyes earlier. But on that money, you can see why plotting a graceful exit might not have been top of her priority list.

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