Well, it had to happen. Sooner, rather than later, the Spirit of Ecstasy will be ripped off Pearson‘s bonnet. Founded by Samuel Pearson in 1844 as a building and engineering concern, Dame Marjorie Scardino took the helm in 1997 and became the first female Chief Executive of a FTSE 100 company. The formidable Dame singlehandedly transformed the ailing conglomerate into the greatest and most successful British multinational publishing company, tripling profits to almost £1b. She was a true visionary, correctly predicting the fast-growing, insatiable appetite for education in the new emerging economies. Selling off peripheral assets and re-investing the proceeds in China proved to be her biggest coup.
Pearson’s most visible asset is the Financial Times Newspaper. From a purely commercial point of view, it is also the most incongruous. However, when questioned about a potential disposal of the pink paper, she famously replied “Over my dead body”. She loved the newspaper and considered it to be an important platform and, indeed, foundation of the educational empire as a whole. And she was right. And she remains right. The FT is Pearson’s flagship. The FT is not only at the heart of Pearson, it is the heart of Pearson, its ethos feeding into all areas of the company’s activities. And, remarkably in this day and age, it actually makes a profit.
So why sell now, as reported in The Times this weekend? John Fallon, Dame Marjorie’s successor, is clearly suffering from ‘itchy feet syndrome’. The man wants to make his mark. Pearson hasn’t done well under his stewardship even though it appears to be slowly turning the corner. The figures put on the paper range from £600m – 1£b. Useful to pay down debt or, even better, top up the pension fund. More likely, however, it will be the same old story: Appeasement politics. The dosh, or at least a large proportion of it, will be returned to shareholders. Well, would make a nice and most welcome X-mas pressie in these gloomy times! And, to kill two birds with one stone… literally…, finish Marge off: Dead & buried!