Sir Anthony gives up chair to focus on chief executive role

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The Independent Online

Sir Anthony O'Reilly has agreed to give up the chairmanship of Independent News and Media to concentrate on being chief executive in a move designed to comply with recent changes to corporate governance codes.

Sir Anthony O'Reilly has agreed to give up the chairmanship of Independent News and Media to concentrate on being chief executive in a move designed to comply with recent changes to corporate governance codes.

Previously Sir Anthony had combined the role of chairman and chief executive. He indicated yesterday that he hopes to hold the position of chief executive for at least the next five years, scotching speculation that he would shortly be stepping back from his executive duties with the company. He will be succeeded as chairman by Dr Brian Hillery, a former politician.

Independent News and Media, the owner of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday, also moved to strengthen the board yesterday with the appointment of Brian Mulroney, the former Prime Minister of Canada, as a non-executive director. The appointments were announced at the company's annual meeting in Dublin at which Sir Anthony said the company looked forward to a meaningful improvement in earnings this year, in line with the consensus forecast.

Sir Anthony said it would always have been difficult for him to become non-executive chairman of the company where his family remains near 28 per cent shareholders. "Once the chief executive of a company you cannot go back from being a chief executive," he said after the meeting.

Sir Anthony said he was delighted with progress at The Independent, which since the launch of is compact edition last September has experienced a big leap in circulation and readership, taking them to their highest levels under Independent News and Media ownership.

Sir Anthony used the meeting to launch a robust defence of recent restructuring in the company's Irish business, which has involved the loss of 205 jobs, or a third of the workforce. Questioned by a former employee who complained of "unfair" redundancy procedures, Sir Anthony forcibly insisted that the pay-offs, averaging €170,000 (£113,000) per employee with pension and enhanced healthcare rights, were "very, very fair, generous and just terms". The average wage among these employees had risen to €58,600, he added.

"As a company struggling to exist in these shark-infested waters, we reached a point when decisions had to be made," Sir Anthony said. "In a situation where we find ourselves in fierce competition, with eroding margins and an inability to launch new products, we will in certain cases be forced to go the involuntary route."

Sir Anthony hinted that there may be more to come in making the company more competitive, stressing that the group would pursue an "all Ireland" strategy.

Some British competitors have been spending on expansion in the Irish market without regard for the losses they are incurring. However, recent readership figures show the company was more than holding its own.

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