Outlook: Reed Elsevier

IT'S BEEN a long time coming but after a year of searching and several false starts, Reed Elsevier has finally got its man. He is Crispin Davis, who becomes chief executive of the beleaguered online database publishing group from the beginning of September. The shares jumped 8 per cent on the appointment but the Reed grandees could probably have appointed Coco the Clown and still seen the stock trickle upwards, such has been the City's desperation for the void to be filled.

Mr Davis isn't anyone's fool, but is he the right man for Reed? No-one can quarrel with his performance at Aegis, the media buying group he has led since 1994. In that time the shares have risen six fold and he has undertaken a wide-ranging re-structuring programme that has developed the Aegis brands, expanded the group internationally and moved its operations into higher margin areas.

All this has made him popular in the City, but Reed is a tougher proposition. The company has lost its way after a period of management drift and a number of profits warnings. Crucially Mr Davis must find a solution to the internet challenge which has seen nimbler US rivals eat away at the Lexis-Nexis database publishing business.

However, he's got quite a lot going for him. Reed has strong brands with powerful market positions in sectors like legal and scientific publishing and a man with Mr Davis' marketing nous should be able to improve returns. Reed has also tidied up its management structure with a unitary board replacing the old executive committee. In itself this should ease the decision making process. Where Mr Davis is untried is in the field of internet related activities. For choice, the City would have preferred an American internet guru with marketing and plc experience. But if such a person exists at all, be was certainly not available for the money on offer from Reed.

Those searching for parallels with other top media appointments should look to Pearson, where Marjorie Scardino has delivered a significant share price rise in her two and a half years at the helm . After a year in which Reed's shares have underperformed the market by 25 per cent, Mr Davis will be a hot property if he can deliver anything remotely similar.

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