The head of Emap's radio division quit the media group unexpectedly yesterday, leaving the company without a leader in that sector just as it is expected to consolidate.
The news of Tim Schoonmaker's abrupt departure - he will go almost immediately - set off feverish speculation that there had been a bust-up with management over strategy or that the highly regarded radio chief had demanded a seat on the main board.
The company denied that there had been a falling out, pointing to an arrangement that will see Mr Schoonmaker work as a consultant to Emap's digital TV and radio assets.
Analysts and radio industry executives questioned why Mr Schoonmaker would depart at one of the most interesting times ever for the radio sector. The industry is set to go through a period of consolidation after the rules that restrict ownership of radio assets were freed up at the end of last year.
There was also speculation that Mr Schoonmaker was already pressing for Emap to do radio deals but that he was frustrated by the lack of backing from the board. Tom Moloney, Emap's chief executive, has consistently cautioned that valuations are too high in the radio sector.
Mr Schoonmaker, who has worked at Emap for more than 20 years, told The Independent he wanted to set up in business on his own.
"Over the last 10 years, Emap gave me £150m of cash to spend on radio. Today that £150m is worth not less than £600m," he said. "For the next 20 years, I'd like to keep building businesses but I also want to do that while making something for myself."
Mr Schoonmaker, a 46-year-old from New York, joined Emap as a "freshly minted MBA" from the London Business School in July 1983. He has a reputation as a formidably competitive radio executive.
He has taken Emap's original radio asset - the Kiss 100 station - and built a large radio business, with closely tied music magazines and music television channels. Emap is now one of the three big industry players, along with Capital Radio and GWR. Emap's other big interests are in consumer and trade magazines.
Mr Schoonmaker said he would not become a "career consultant" and that he would be looking to run a business in digital media or radio.
"I may buy a company, build a company from scratch but get involved in a turnaround situation.... There is a lot of private equity money out there but there is a shortage of people with good ideas and a track record of creating value."Reuse content