Marjorie Scardino’s Pearson era – she’s safeguarded quite a few media jobs

So, Marjorie Scardino is leaving Pearson after 15 years in charge. A paean of praise has been heard since the announcement – much of it well-deserved. After all, she has re-engineered the business away from an odd hodgepodge of diversified holdings (James Ashton reminds us that Madame Tussaud’s and Alton Towers were both Pearson properties when she joined) to a more coherent – and sustainable –proposition. But one stat struck me as worthy of closer examination.

In Nils Pratley’s report, it was mentioned that Pearson’s share price was 88% higher now than when she joined, on 1st January 1997. Now, I know that there have been some recessions and a dotcom crash in the period, but I was struck that 88% over fifteen years (an average of 5.87% a year) is good – but hardly spectacular.

So I checked. When the then un-Damed Marjorie took on Pearson, the share price was 678p. It closed today at 1230p. That’s an increase of 82%, by my reckoning – but pretty close, Nils.

Then I wondered how my money might have fared if I had invested in some rivals. Viewing Pearson as a publisher of educational, business information, and news products, I compared it to some competitors. For convenience, I have associated these with one or other of Pearson’s activities – though in truth, most of the companies mentioned here cross several media boundaries. And the following comparisons come with a large geek warning.

In the business publishing space, Reed Elsevier, Pearson’s neighbours on the Strand, have made some progress: from 551p in 1997 to, er, 602.5p today – about 9% in 15 years. But Thomson Reuters has fared even worse, despite betting the house on the merger of the two massive media giants. In 1997, Thomson was trading at C$28.75; it is virtually at par on C$28.43 fifteen years later.

Among UK newspaper publishers, News Corp has done best: from A$13.28 to A$24.40 – slightly pipping Pearson to an 84% increase. DMGT – publisher of the Daily Mail – has increased from 419p to 502.50p over the same period. A 20% increase, though you’d have been better off putting your money in its separately quoted subsidiary Euromoney; it would have yielded a 121% pay off (from 355p to 785p). Trinity Mirror, of course, has tanked: from 488p to 67.75p – a drop of over 86%! – since then.

Many of Pearson’s rivals in the educational space are privately owned – or a subsidiary of one of the above businesses. But one has yet to be mentioned: with a market cap of $15bn, it is about the same size as Pearson, and works in many of the same areas – education and business information. But if you had invested $14 at the beginning of 1997, you would be holding $45 today; a 221% increase on your original investment.

Well done, then, Marjorie Scardino. You have safeguarded quite a few media jobs. But step forward Harold McGraw of the McGraw-Hill Companies to claim top spot in our highly unscientific sweepstake of publishing CEOs.


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Martin Tripp Associates is a London-based executive search consultancy. While we are best-known for our work in the TMT (technology, media, and telecoms) space, we have also worked with some of the world’s biggest brands on challenging senior positions. Feel free to contact us to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog.