End of chapter at publisher Pearson as Stevenson exits

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The Independent Online

Lord Stevenson is to step down as chairman of Pearson, the media and education group, after eight years in the job and 19 years on the board, to focus on his responsibilities as chairman of HBOS and as a member of the House of Lords.

Lord Stevenson is to step down as chairman of Pearson, the media and education group, after eight years in the job and 19 years on the board, to focus on his responsibilities as chairman of HBOS and as a member of the House of Lords.

Announcing the news yesterday, Pearson, which owns the Financial Times newspaper, said that a committee headed by the senior independent non-executive, Lord Burns, had already begun the search for his replacement. A precise date has not been set for his departure, which will be "later this year".

Since taking over as chairman of Pearson in May 1997, Lord Stevenson has presided over the transformation of what was initially a wide-ranging media and leisure conglomerate. It is now a focused publisher, with educational publishing accounting for about half of its profits.

Lord Stevenson said: "The board and I have naturally been discussing plans for my succession for some time, and this is a good moment to formalise the process. Pearson is in excellent shape, looking forward to some very good years under a strong executive team led by [Dame] Marjorie [Scardino, the chief executive]. I am looking forward to my 60th birthday later this year, and planning some new projects outside the plc world."

The move means that Lord Stevenson will finally come into line with guidelines laid out in the combined code of corporate governance. These include recommendations made by Derek Higgs in his government-commissioned report, that directors should hold no more than one chairmanship at a time among FTSE 100 companies.

HBOS, the UK bancassurer, announced yesterday that Lord Stevenson had signed up to a second three-year term as its chairman, starting in June this year. Sir Ron Garrick, HBOS's deputy chairman, said: "We are delighted that Dennis has accepted our invitation to renew his chairmanship for another three years."

Lord Stevenson's non-corporate interests include the arts, where he is a trustee of the Tate Gallery Foundation. He has also advised the Government on the role of information technology in schools.

Soon after his elevation to chairman of Pearson, the company began a major disposal programme, selling off assets such as Madame Tussauds and a 50 per cent stake in Lazard, the investment bank. It then proceeded to make a handful of major acquisitions in the educational market, most notably its £2.8bn purchase of Simon & Schuster, the educational publisher, in 1998.

Two years later, it bought National Computer Systems, the educational technology provider, for £1.7bn. More recently, the group has sold off its controlling stake in Recoletos, the Spanish publishing group, fuelling speculation that a sale of the Financial Times may follow. However, Dame Scardino has been reported to say that she would sell the newspaper group "over my dead body".

Pearson announces its results today, when it is expected to write-down its publishing arm, Penguin, another division which has been rumoured to be up for sale. Analysts are predicting a slight fall in annual pre-tax profits from just over £4bn in 2003 to about £3.8bn for 2004.

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