The skill of United's star signing

Profile; David Arculus; He spent 25 years turning round Emap, and now he hopes to inspire the publisher of the Express. Paul Farrelly reports

It is an unknown fact outside the tightest of media circles that four years ago Emap, the magazine and radio group, was in full-blown merger talks with Lord Stevens' United Newspapers.

David Arculus, Emap's managing director, was all for it after spending the best part of a year mapping the deal out, Emap sources say. But ult- imately he was overruled by the board.United, publisher of the Express, fell instead to the financial services group MAI last year and took on the new name of United News & Media.

Meanwhile Emap, which publishes everything from Smash Hits to Country Walking, has continued to wend its way towards its long-held ambition: membership of that elite City club, the FT-SE 100 index. And now, ranked 112th among the country's quoted companies, it is well-placed to achieve it.

When it does, Arculus will not be around to see it. After 25 years with the group, he is leaving to become chief operating officer at United News & Media itself.

It is a measure of the respect that the towering Arculus, all six feet six of him, commands in the industry that the news wiped pounds 70m off the value of Emap last week and added pounds 150m on to United. A pounds 220m man. He must be pleased? Sure, but the smile of satisfaction is a quiet one.

"I've always hankered after a really big challenge and this is it," he says. "Sir Denys Henderson, the former chairman of ICI and one of my great mentors, telephoned me last night and joked that when many top executives leave, shares actually go up. Thank God, it didn't happen like that."

Arculus is not a man to stir controversy, in public at least, and certainly not to gloat. Upstairs at his London club, the Groucho, he is not about to spill the beans on why United eluded him before (answer: Stevens and Emap's chief executive, Robin Miller, could not agree on who'd get the top job).

Nor does he want to be drawn on spats at the top of Emap last year that pitted Miller and chairman Sir John Hoskyns against two rebel non-executives who were thrown off the board. He tried - but failed, then - to act as peacemaker.

Arculus is a strategic thinker, who likes to get things done quietly but effectively. The Groucho may be the stage and literati's favourite haunt, but he is a suit-and-tie man and hardly a luvvie. His second great mentor, Felix Dennis - ex-hippy, veteran of the Oz obscenity trial and computer magazine multi-millionaire - is light years away in image. But their closeness testifies to Arculus's deep admiration for creativity, however unconventional.

He was 25 when he joined the old East Midland Allied Press as a corporate planner in 1972 via a roundabout route that included two years as a scriptwriter and producer with the BBC World Service and an MBA at the London Business School.

After studying at Oxford, Arculus might have followed many of his contemporaries into the City, but he spurned an offer from a merchant bank: "I might have made a lot more money then, but if I hadn't taken a job in journalism, I wouldn't have lived."

He also once toyed with politics, considering applying to join the list of official Conservative candidates before his wife Anne - a former teacher and now a magistrate - put a stop to all that.

Instead, Arculus and Miller have spent the past 25 years transforming Emap from a sleepy regional newspaper outfit into a pounds 1.6bn giant through a series of launches and deals - in newspapers, magazines, exhibitions and radio - that most bankers can only dream of.

Along the way, Emap has lost none of the enterprise and sparkle that have long made it the tipsters' favourite media play. As head of the magazine division, he launched Smash Hits in 1978 and it was soon selling a million copies a week.

Every publication has its day, but as the circulation of one magazine has fallen, Emap has launched a host of successors. Like soap powder makers, it also had the foresight to launch competing titles to its own to keep rivals off the shelves.

The group is legendary for being tough on budgets, but also for devolving responsibilty. It is a firm believer in "small is beautiful" and will chop a division in two rather than let it grow too big. It is a trick, fostering a team spirit, that has certainly paid off for Richard Branson's Virgin, the operation to which Emap has most been likened. "My great strength is to have a loose management style and let people develop beneath me," says Arculus. "It's all about backing creative teams of people."

As a team, Miller and Arculus have clearly delivered, so it came as a surprise during the board hiccups last year to learn that they did not always get on. It was always a strange arrangement - managing director beneath Miller as chief executive - but after Arculus turned down the plum position of Controller of ITV in 1992, it looked one set to last for eternity. "I turned it down because I like to be the instigator of events rather than a spectator. The one thing ITV did, though, is open my eyes to the possibilities of television."

It also introduced him to the Labour peer Lord Hollick at MAI, one of the triumvirate along with Granada and Carlton that would rule ITV's roost.

He joins at a time, however, when United appears number three of the three after Granada, Carlton, BSkyB and the BBC joined forces on digital terrestrial television last month, leaving United out in the cold. But Arculus insists the group still has great exposure to DTTV through its Anglia, Meridien and Channel 5 franchises and its programming output.

Nevertheless, digital TV is one of his top responsibilities, as is United's trade magazine and conference side, Miller Freeman. Exhibitions - United bought Blenheim for pounds 590m last October - also gels with his Emap experience. That leaves Hollick to continue with the medication at the Express, whose circulation is still in the doldrums despite last year's move to a seven- day operation.

It is not Arculus's consensual style to admit it, but the move to United undoubtedly frees him from Miller's shadow. But only to swap it for Hollick's? Despite the inevitable speculation - Hollick to succeed Stevens, or take a post in a Labour government - Arculus insists the question of his slipping into the chief executive's job has never arisen.

"There have been no pledges made, nor asked for," he says. "I think we'll make an effective partnership. He's got inspiration. He's put a tremendous company together. That spark of creativity is what I most admire about people in business."

It may also be pleasing to Hollick's ears, though certainly not to those of Stevens, that like the voters of Wirral South his traditional political allegiance may be up for grabs this time.

"My political leanings are conservative with a small 'c'. By far the most important issue we face is Europe. I'm a great European. I'll vote for the party that best reflects that."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Ukip leader Nigel Farage arrives at the Rochester by-election count
voicesIs it any wonder that Thornberry, Miliband, and Cameron have no idea about ordinary everyday life?
Life and Style
tech
News
i100BBC political editor Nick Robinson had a lot of explaining to do
Life and Style
Nappies could have advice on them to encourage mothers and fathers to talk to their babies more often
newsTalking to babies can improve their language and vocabulary skills
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Reach Volunteering: Trustee – PR& Marketing, Social Care, Commercial skills

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Age Concern Slough a...

Reach Volunteering: Charity Treasurer

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Crossroads Care is s...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Soho

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000: SThree: We consistently strive to be ...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CADIS) Developer

£50000 - £90000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CA...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines