Has Sly Bailey finally cracked the 'Mirror'?

She's controversial, acerbic and journalists don't always admire her. But the City loves the girl from Dulwich, and she's just got a 12.9% pay rise

The first name of Trinity Mirror's chief executive, Sly Bailey, is an embellishment. Her parents named her Sylvia. But the adapted version proclaims one of her key attributes. To her fans the 44-year-old blonde is an inspiration who has risen from shop counter to board room by dint of copious talent and shrewdness. Critics accuse her of philistinism in her stewardship of Britain's largest regional newspaper group, owner of the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and The People.

A fortnight ago, Bailey's employer said her remuneration had fallen from £1.06m in 2004 to £991,000 in 2005 after her bonus was cut from £450,000 to £360,000. Last week, Trinity Mirror awarded her a 12.9 per cent increase on her £620,000 basic salary, so repairing the dent in her income. So why does a chief executive who does not earn her full bonus deserve a salary increase?

Since Bailey arrived at Trinity Mirror in February 2003, the apparent dichotomy between her business skills and her lack of newspaper experience has plagued her. She began by promising a "more focused publishing approach" and a "deeper understanding of the role a newspaper plays in readers' lives". Then she announced 550 redundancies.

Among the descriptions offered by the journalist wing of the newspaper business are "a woman for whom the bottom line will always matter more than the headlines", "cost-cutter", "driven", "ruthless", "steely" and "brassy".

When Bailey cancelled last year's Mirror Group Christmas party to save funds, one journalist said: "Sly loves being called the axe woman because she thinks it pleases the City. But she has absolutely no understanding of how newspapers or journalists actually function, nor does she show any sign of caring very much."

Then she cut 300 jobs at Trinity Mirror's national, regional and local titles, and National Union of Journalists chapels throughout the group passed a motion of no confidence in her. The NUJ's general secretary, Jeremy Dear, said: "Sacking is Sly's one and only strategy".

But praise for her commercial acumen has been consistent. The outgoing Trinity Mirror chairman, Sir Victor Blank, once credited her with "a proven track record in building businesses and brands" and "excellent media credentials".

When Daily Mirror circulation fell below two million months after her appointment, analysts hardly questioned his view that Bailey would "bring drive and vigour to our newspapers". They remained equally bullish in 2004 when she sacked Mirror editor Piers Morgan for publishing fake pictures of British soldiers abusing Iraqis.

Bailey appeared to perfect a balancing act in which she sacrificed editorial ambition for commercial progress. She accepted circulation decline as an occupational hazard and accused media commentators of being "obsessed" by a statistic that is a poor indicator of financial health.

After she left her Roman Catholic grammar school in east London, Bailey's first job was as a shop assistant. In 1984 she moved into advertising sales for The Guardian before winning a junior managerial job at The Independent. From there she took the step that gave her career wings when she joined the magazine publishing company IPC. She became a member of its board at 31.

From 1997 to 1999 she was chief executive of IPC's television magazine division, overseeing a record market share for its titles What's on TV, TV Times and TV & Satellite Week. In 1998 she helped mastermind an £860m management buyout of the company from Reed Elsevier. Three years later, as IPC's chief executive, she turned that into £1.2bn by selling the business to AOL Time Warner.

IPC colleagues saw a side of Bailey that Trinity Mirror journalists cannot detect. "To those of us outside the boring old boy network it was obvious she offered a glimmer of glamour and personality to what was a pretty mediocre environment," said James Brown, former editor of lad's mag Loaded. Another colleague from that era calls her "ballsy, inspirational and really dynamic. I found her willing to persuade as well as cajole. She is certainly not a bully and she can be great fun when the team is firing on all cylinders."

This hint that Bailey is capable of warmth is confirmed by those who served with her on the Government's advisory panel on BBC charter renewal.

But it was her ability to satisfy investors that attracted Trinity Mirror. In 2003, Sir Victor Blank knew his group lacked commercial credibility. When Philip Graf, his chief executive, resigned, Sir Victor yearned to replace him with a candidate who could attract City approval. Bailey did that, not least because she was so luminously different from her predecessors.

But now the commercial side is faltering, particularly in the national titles division for which Bailey takes direct responsibility. The three national titles underperformed the rest of the group last year. Their combined revenues fell by 2.9 per cent compared with a 1.7 per cent decline across the group. Each recorded falls in circulation. The bad news was confirmed last week when the latest ABC figures recorded year-on-year declines of 4.1 per cent for the Sunday Mirror and 10.92 per cent for its stablemate The People.

Bailey has no intention of returning the Mirror to the campaigning role it played in the 1960s. But she never pretended she would. In 2003 she said she would make the paper "seriously fun" and was ridiculed for it. Since then she has avoided media interviews, preferring to focus her attention on her company and her shareholders.

One analyst says: "Incessant speculation that Trinity Mirror might actually sell the national titles works wonders for the share price. Sly has a lot of reasons to thank her detractors for that."

Perhaps the real conundrum is that few journalists understand that such commercial motivations make her tick.

BIOGRAPHY

BORN 24 January 1962.

EDUCATION

St Saviour's and St Olave's Grammar School for Girls, Dulwich, south-east London. Briefly attended the Italia Conti theatrical school in 1978, a contemporary of Patsy Kensit.

CAREER

1980: make-up artist for Revlon

1984-87: advertising sales person at The Guardian.

1987-89: advertising manager, The Independent.

1989-99: executive, IPC.

1999: chief executive, IPC Media.

2001: sells IPC to Time Inc.

2003: chief executive, Trinity Mirror.

Married to businessman Peter Bailey, whom she met at an Eric Clapton concert. Supports Tottenham Hotspur.

News
peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
Voices
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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 Media

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Senior Management Accountant

£40000 - £46000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: Global publishing and digital bu...

Semi Senior Accountant - Music

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful, Central London bas...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits