'I am too much of an FT greybeard'

Andrew Gowers, the new man at the helm of the Financial Times, is determined to keep the paper's collegiate approach and maintain the team atmosphere. He will not be seen banging a table in anger, he tells David Lister
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The Independent Online

A change in editorship of the Financial Times does not have quite the mystery, mystique and dignity of the election of a new Pope, despite the tendency of some newspapers to make the comparison. But certainly it is a civilised process. The sudden exits, the barring of former favoured sons from the building, the appointment of a complete outsider – such Fleet Street rituals are not quite the thing at the FT.

And so when it was announced last week that Andrew Gowers was to succeed Richard Lambert as FT editor, the appointment seemed a pretty seamless transition. Gowers is the editor of FT Deutschland, the German-language version of the FT he set up and staffed; and he has been an acting deputy editor of the main paper in the past. Gowers was acting editor of the FT for a year while Lambert was in the United States, leading the push for growth, so his appointment is no shock.

But it was not without internal competition. Robert Thompson, who heads FT America, and Lionel Barber, the European editor, were both known to be interested. Externally, Bill Emmott, the editor of The Economist, was also a name mentioned.

Andrew Gowers stresses that it is too early for him to articulate his strategy for the FT. He takes over from Richard Lambert in September and he only learned of his appointment last Wednesday evening. But speaking to me from his current office in Germany, he did, nevertheless, outline the broad parameters that will guide his thinking. And one thing that seems very clear is that the expansion of sales abroad will be the priority.

The FT's sales have grown from 300,000 to 503,767 in a decade and made £81m profits last year. More than 200,000 of those sales are abroad, with 125,000 in the US.

"The paper has so much momentum in its international growth at the moment," says Gowers. "The big challenge is to keep that going, because it's on a roll. Richard has really turned the thing on its head in moving it into the world."

Should Gowers, then, be worrying more about improving sales figures in the UK?

"You have to look at where the potential is," he answers. "There could be growth in the UK, but the big opportunities are in the US and Canada. Much has been achieved. Much more could be achieved."

Editorially, Gowers describes himself as "too much of an FT greybeard" to make any radical changes. Certainly, he is keen to reject any suggestions that a paper which is almost the City's house journal cannot mount hard-hitting investigations.

He says: "One of the greatest things of Richard's period as editor is that the FT has flexed its muscles and upset people. He has presided over some mighty stories and I want to build upon that. The City is a good hunting ground."

Can it ever become a first paper for people who don't work in the City? "It already is a first paper for some," he maintains. "The arts pages are a jewel."

Staff at the FT say that Gowers is a popular figure and a good communicator. He does not have Lambert's exhaustive knowledge of finance; but he is a skilled and professional journalist.

It's perhaps not the FT way for a new editor to dwell himself on the attributes one has over one's fellow candidates for the top job. But when pressed on his strengths, Gowers says: "I bring things from the experience I've had. I've done some important jobs in the UK but more of my time has been on the international side. I worked as deputy editor to get my claws into the City. And I have launched FT Deutschland and built up a staff of 250 from scratch.

"My mind set has been quite considerably shaped from the time I spent abroad. I lived in Germany before between school and university, then Brussels, then Zurich. You come back enriched. The other thing that I suppose has left a very different mark on me is having to set up a new newspaper in a foreign country. You see a whole different set of layers of what a newspaper is about. It is taken very seriously in Germany and has sales of 70,000,which is above our target. I recruited 150 staff from nowhere and turned them into an orchestra."

It is an apposite metaphor for a man who is a keen opera goer. His other interests include "movies, the odd bit of tennis and eating good food and drinking good wine." Other than that, he says, "I am a full- time family man." His wife, Finola, ran a market research outfit before becoming a full-time mother to Daniel, three, and nine-month-old Madeleine.

If Richard Lambert has bequeathed him a pretty healthy paper, certainly in terms of its foreign sales, Gowers also inherits FT.com, the website with losses of £113m last year. Will he close it?

"God, no. Jesus, no," says Gowers. "It's losing a lot less than it was and is full of good things editorially."

Gowers will continue an approach at the paper that has characterised Lambert's time at the helm – an emphasis on articles on social policy as well as pure business stories.

According to Gowers, "The FT is and should always remain a paper of fine ideas. Their readers at the very top need to know where their next £1m of turnover is coming from."

The comment pages, he acknowledges, are an area in which he will be taking a particular interest. But even as he lets slip one area where he will make his presence felt, Gowers immediately stresses a word that does not figure greatly in most newspaper offices – collegiality.

"The job of editor is constantly evolving," he says, "but a very important principle at the paper is collegiality – collegiality and teamwork. The FT hasn't been a paper where there's a big, bad figure at a large table, banging it. It's a paper that subtly brings the best out of people by creating a team atmosphere."

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