Marjorie Scardino: `Have a plan, execute it violently and do it today'

Pearson's new chief signals her intent as executives prepare for the advent of a rigorous regime
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The Independent Online
Pearson's new chief executive, who begins the high-profile job today, has taken to heart the advice of US General Douglas MacArthur: have a good plan, executive it violently, and do it today. Marjorie Scardino said the line was mentioned to her by a colleague and seemed to sum up her strategy at the media and financial services conglomerate, which is under City pressure to restructure its vast array of assets.

The motto is a measure of Ms Scardino's intention to shake up the sleepy giant, which has attracted criticism in the City because of what analysts call a lack of focus.

"Just wait until she gets into the job," a senior colleague warned. "She is going to shake a lot of people up."

Known at the Economist Group, where she was chief executive, as a hands- on, "intuitive" manager, Ms Scardino is expected to move quickly to prove herself. City analysts and leading institutional shareholders have said she will be given the benefit of the doubt at least for six months. "Have I really got as long as that?" Ms Scardino joked.

On her first day, she has planned a series of meetings with division heads, starting at 9.30am. "I hate the idea of going in without meeting everybody properly," she said.

Later this month, she is planning to visit the New York headquarters, where she will meet senior management from Pearson subsidiaries. Later in the year, she intends to talk to leading financial institutions and analysts.

"I think we made a mistake back when my appointment was announced [in October]," Ms Scardino said. "We should have met all the City people then, because I think they like to look you in the eye."

An early target of her attention is likely to be Mindscape, the ill- starred CD-Rom manufacturer primarily responsible for Pearson's bad press during the past year and a contributing factor to the early retirement of Frank Barlow, the outgoing managing director. Most analysts expect Pearson to sell the company rather than try to turn it around.

Also on a list of options is the sale of the company's theme park division, led by Madame Tussaud's, and its half share in the Lazard merchant banking operation.

Some analysts even expect Ms Scardino to spin off the television subsidiary, or even sell it outright. That would please Greg Dyke, the chief executive of Pearson Television, who is believed to be in favour of a sale.

More broadly, she is expected to encourage different subsidiaries - ranging from books to television to financial information - to work more closely together. She has declined to comment on the options, saying only that she has ruled nothing out.

Ms Scardino, born and raised in the US, is widely being seen, both inside and outside the company, as a new broom.

Unlike past Pearson senior management, she eschews ceremony, dislikes pomp and is decidedly down to earth in an unmistakably American way.

That approach may make some of Pearson's staff uncomfortable, insiders warned. At the Financial Times, for instance, there are growing fears that Ms Scardino's appointment could lead to further job cuts and changes to the operational structure of the newspaper.