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Pearson finance chief takes on new role at FT

Rona Fairhead, Pearson's chief financial officer, has been appointed as the new head of the company's newspaper group, prompting speculation she could be next in line to replace chief executive, Dame Marjorie Scardino.

The move was part of a wider shake-up of the company's executives. Some observers interpreted the move as a stepping stone for Ms Fairhead, 44, who can gain valuable experience running Pearson's newspaper assets before chief executive Ms Scardino retires. Ms Fairhead has been with Pearson since 2001, when she joined from chemicals group ICI.

There was similar excitement over a potential replacement for Ms Scardino, 60, when John Makinson became head of Pearson's book division, Penguin, in 2002 after six years as finance director. However, Penguin struggled with a range of operational problems and the speculation died down.

Ms Fairhead will take up her new role on 12 June. She replaces Olivier Fleurot, who will take charge of Pearson's digital technology strategy. Robin Freestone, the deputy chief financial officer, is promoted to Ms Fairhead's old position and will join the board. John Ridding moves from his role as editor of the Financial Times Asian edition to become chief executive of the Financial Times and FT.com.

Ms Fairhead will take charge of a wide group of assets, including the Financial Times, the German edition of the newspaper, Les Echoes in France and the information unit IDC. She will also take charge of The Economist Group, in which Pearson owns a 50 per cent stake, and FTSE, which Pearson owns with the London Stock Exchange.

A number of those assets could be disposed of as Pearson attempts to improve profitability. Pearson derives most of its profit from its US education division and only returned to profitability last year.

One analyst, speaking off the record, said: "Rona's appointment is not a major catalyst for change. Yet major change is required. With advertising revenue strengthening, she has to figure out how to turn the FT brand into a global powerhouse."