Dyke heads for top job in Pearson shake-up

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The Independent Online
NIGEL COPE

Pearson, the media conglomerate that owns the Financial Times, is expected to announce a radical boardroom shake-up tomorrow which could be a prelude to making TV mogul Greg Dyke its new chief executive.

The first part of the sweeping changes will be the replacement of finance director James Joll with John Makinson, managing director of the Financial Times. Analysts are meeting the company for an update on trading tommorow and are expecting to be given details.

Mr Dyke, the bearded dynamo who joined the group as head of Pearson TV at the beginning of this year, is 47. He is seen as a good manager who has strong operational experience. His TV background would also count in his favour as this is a growth area for the company, which has been transforming iteself from a diversified conglomerate - including everything from engineering interests to Royal Doulton china - to a more focused media group.

It was considered a surprise that Mr Dyke was not given a boardroom role but placed in charge of one of the operating divisions.

The path to the top job would need the retirement of Frank Barlow the group's current chief executive, who was 65 last March.

A spokesman for Pearson refused to comment last night. However, privately it is believed it will announce the changes at the Financial Times. But confirmation of changes at the top will come later.

Pearson has recently been the subject of takeover speculation which has taken shares this year from a low of 543p to a peak of 684p. They were up 6p at 660p last night. In August Pearson announced profits had fallen 27 per cent in the half-year to last June.

Mr Makinson is a former journalist on the influential Lex column on the FT. He has been the paper's managing director since last year. Mr Joll, 59, has been finance director for 10 years. He has also worked his way up from the Lex column where he was joint editor.

The changes will help calm investor concerns about the succession which have been hanging over the group for the last 18 months. One analyst said: "The board isn't getting any younger and the issue has to be addressed. It has hung like a spectre over the company."

Mr Barlow's retirement has been long expected but Pearson has been dragging its feet about naming his successor.

Some analysts say, however, that Mr Dyke's experience is too narrow for a large group that still owns theme parks such as Alton Towers and other leisure operations such as Madame Tussauds. They say that an external appointment would be more appropriate.

Media analysts will be briefed collectively tomorrow after the company changed its policy of meeting media watchers individually as it gave some access to price-sensitive information before others. The company is also likely to issue a trading statement.

The appointment of Mr Dyke, who is a hands-on manager, is already seen to have shaken up the rather clubby Pearson. In March it pulled off its biggest TV deal when it paid pounds 175m for Grundy Worldwide, the Australian production company that produces the Neighbours soap opera.

The deal was the work of Mr Dyke who only joined the company at the beginning of the year. In addition to the expansion in television, Pearson has been moving more into new media areas such as electronic publishing.

The group has been overhauling its regional newspaper group Westminster Press and cut 450 jobs there in July.

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