Johnston Press faces overhaul of company’s management

Johnston Press publishes regional newspapers Yorkshire Evening Post and Portsmouth News

Activist investor Crystal Amber, which in January took the largest stake in the publisher, is expected to hold talks with interim chairman this week to demand an overhaul of the company’s management, that could put chief executive Ashley Highfield’s job at risk.

Camilla Rhodes, the interim chairman who stepped up a few weeks ago after Ian Russell departed in December, is said to have called in restructuring experts Rothschild, the publisher's retained advisers, to aid the struggling publisher, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Crystal Amber, the largest shareholder with a stake of 20.4%, is expected to meet Rhodes this week to agitate for change.

Such moves could put chief executive Ashley Highfield’s job at risk, according to reports in the Sunday Times, amid shareholder concerns over his leadership.

Shareholders have questioned his strategy to reduce costs at the publisher, which included a “disinvestment strategy” that saw 13 “non-core” titles sold, and the acquisition of the i newspaper last year to give the publisher a national sell.

A source of contention is Highfield’s bonus package following his restructure of the business two years ago. His pay package for 2014 was £1.65m, with £645,000 awarded as a bonus, half of which was paid in shares. His salary fell 65% to £581,000 in 2015.

The value of Johnston Press is £220m but 90% of this is debt, not shares.

In August, following the publisher’s half-year results, it cut the valuation of its title and print assets by 45 per cent to £224m and increased its debt to £209m, up from £183m a year ago. Consequently, the publisher has seen its shares tumble around 80% over the past 12 months.

The Drum reached out to Johnston Press but the publisher did not return comment by time of publishing.

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