Me And My Partner: John Pfeil And Jim Brown

Jim Brown was chief executive of Reed Regional Newspapers when he recruited John Pfeil as finance director. Through a management buyout they formed Newsquest Media Group, which is now the third largest regional publisher in the UK

which has an annual turnover of pounds 306m and more than 5,000 employees

JIM BROWN: John was financial controller at Reed Elsevier and we met at a conference. We came together by happenstance over lunch and chatted, and John impressed me as a particularly bright young chap with a very flexible mind. He also had an experience one doesn't always see in an accountant and a knowledge of world accounting.

Shortly afterwards, we lost the financial director of the newspaper side, so that gave me the opportunity to attract John. It was only a few weeks later that we found out Reed was prepared to sell the business and we got into a management buyout situation. John's knowledge of finance was worth its weight in gold, and we jointly said to Reed that we would try and buy.

John strikes you as totally focused and extremely bright. Underneath all that he's essentially nice. It was important that I could feel he could work with the rest of the team, because the business is very much a team job and he had to be a team player. I felt he would not only bring his skill, but also that he would be one of us.

John and I must have done hundreds of presentations during the buyout; there was a lot of reliance on each other and we built up a great deal of trust. From that, we had the confidence to go and buy out what was then Westminster Press (from Pearson) and to double the size of the company. That was a brilliant acquisition, and we were able to turn it round.

Since then, we've been doing all sorts of things in new media - we got the first regional newspaper on the Internet - and I think we've taken a UK leadership there.

John's office is two steps away from mine and we cross the corridor all day, talking through things. We have a similar approach to a complex business, running 180 titles, each one with a different set of problems.

Where there are any differences in our views, they're usually so narrow that by the time we've knocked it about, we find common ground. We're visiting centres two days a week so we pretty well get to the grassroots, and we have a chance to talk through any problems then.

At the weekend, John goes off and I go off and he spends time with his family and I spend time with mine: socially we don't see one another at all.

But at work, we have to have a close relationship - if we didn't get on then we would spend too much time knocking sparks around.

JOHN PFEIL: Jim and I had rubbed shoulders when I was at Reed Elsevier. I'd spent my life in an environment of finance, accountants and tax. Jim came from a different background, having ink in his veins, and that was very refreshing.

Six weeks after I started with Jim, the company was put up for sale. The management buyout was something four or five of us had discussed in the abstract but I was something of a Johnnie-Come-Lately. I was out of my depth in the sense that it was a new area - but a lot of it falls back to the finance person and I was able to contribute because of the experience I had had.

With the buyout, we were put under pressure and everything happened in a short period of time. There was a lot of stress, and you see how people react. What might have taken a year to cement took just weeks.

It puts a huge responsibility on you - you have not only yourself and your personal finances to consider, but there are also business responsibilities as well. The alternative to the buyout would probably have been that the company would be broken up and sold off to different bidders.

Jim did remarkably well, particularly for someone who was due to retire that year at 60. It's one thing to work in lots of different roles in the business, but another thing to lead a management buyout double the size of the business and then float it within a couple of years. The fact that we did that without too many things falling apart on the way is a tribute to the way Jim works.

He's used to very tight deadlines and to turning things round quickly. We're both impatient and always want to be getting on with things, not standing still. I think that's helped us to grab opportunities.

The Internet is moving incredibly rapidly and we've been more rapid than most because we've got very short lines of communication and decision- making. We don't go into big committees, we go out to the business and we spend a lot of time out there. That's what it's about, not sitting back here and telling people to do things.

The whole market is changing significantly and it's an interesting time to be in thisindustry. Its image has changed: in the last year it's been seen by the City as an attractive industry, rather than a sunset one, and we've played a part in that. All the companies are achieving particularly good results, and people can see that the brands and franchises we've got are terrific assets.

Jim and I have the same style: during one presentation, when Jim got caught up in traffic, I started to do his bit and I was desperate to get him to do my bit, but he got there just in time. We've got to the stage where we both know each other's lines; because we work so closely we are likely to say things in a similar way.

Finance is where my strength lies; Jim will come at it from his experience level and gut feeling and I will come at it from, "Does it make sense financially? What are the implications?" We complement each other well.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Report Writer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Technical Report Writer is re...

MBDA UK Ltd: Indirect Procurement Category Manager

Competitive salary & benefits!: MBDA UK Ltd: MBDA UK LTD Indirect Procurement...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness