Hill's persistence pays off at last

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The Independent Online
LESLIE HILL is used to rubbing people up the wrong way. In his music publishing days at EMI he was responsible for signing the notorious Sex Pistols; on moving to Central in 1987 his radical views about the need for mergers, if British television was to compete internationally, were sufficiently ill-received to ensure his virtual ostracism from polite society.

His persistence was rewarded with last week's announcement that the rules were to be relaxed. His decision to leap into bed with Michael Green at Carlton looks a relatively unselfish gesture; few in the industry expect that even a pounds 2bn Carlton-Central will be big enough to contain both men for long.

Most observers expect Central's 57-year-old chairman and chief executive to take the money and retire gracefully before too long. That said, he holds relatively few shares in the company - about 18,800 according to the most recent accounts, worth about pounds 500,000 last night. Nor is his salary (pounds 290,000 last year) in the blockbuster pay-off league.

So the probable conclusion is that - as he says - he believes the bid is right for shareholders. Certainly, this chartered accountant with a grammar school education has a reputation for knowing his own mind.

When he joined Central six years ago from EMI, where he had been joint managing director, he set about transforming the business with vigour, creating distinct profit centres for broadcasting, production and advertising sales.

That approach irritated some of the old guard. But no one could quarrel with the fact that his successful pounds 2,000 bid for Central's franchise and his decision to link up with Anglia for airtime sales purposes turned the group into the network's strongest broadcaster, and one of its most profitable operators.