Meet Southern Cross Austereo’s incoming CEO Grant Blackley

Mediaweek speaks to SCA’s incoming CEO Grant Blackley on challenges + business priorities during his first month

By James Manning

Speaking about the company he is soon to lead, Grant Blackley told Mediaweek that despite some recent challenges, it still has a wonderful set of assets in all parts of the country. “There are some great brands. I don’t seek to differentiate metro and regional. I look on it as having a national footprint in respect of the radio assets. However if people would rather engage with us solely as a metro or a regional business then we will adjust our sales offer to support that.”

The man chosen to replace departing CEO Rhys Holleran added he didn’t want to complicate their pitch to advertisers. “The more simplistic the offer to market, and the more coordinated and organised those efforts are, the better the response from market.

It seems that one CEO will check out about the same time the new one arrives. “We won’t spend time together when it comes to the handover,” said Blackley. “I have known Rhys for some time and he has already passed on his good wishes to me. There is no doubt that at some point in time we will get together and possibly swap some notes, but there is nothing organised along those lines at the moment.”

Asked about business priorities during his first months, Blackley said he was keen to get his feet under the desk before predicting what he’ll review and when. “There is no enormous urgency about acting on any particular sector. I want to get in and understand what is the view of the board and the executive.”

Blackley will also be seeking the views of what he called “trusted stakeholders in market whether they be advertisers or the agencies”.

When pressed on some of the issues facing the company, Blackley said: “We will be looking at how we can improve every aspect of the business. I will want to see very quickly where we are up to in the negotiations for the TV affiliation agreement. We will look at each territory and see how it is positioned in the radio ratings, which will indicate if changes are required or not.

“The radio assets are generally pretty healthy and well respected. There have been some challenges and we will look at those and see if we can make any improvement in the short to medium term.”

Being a salesman turned chief executive, Blackley will examine the offer pretty closely. “We will examine our sales strategy to make sure that is right to reward the investment we make in talent.

“There are a number of things that need to be done simultaneously. There is no one or two single things that we need to address first. I need to understand all the issues we face and then deal with them one by one.

The decision to appoint Blackley happened pretty quickly. “SCA chairman Peter Bush has said in the past he initially believed I was not available for the job. When he became aware I might be interested and available, that was only two weeks before we had a deal. They had been through a process I have been told that looked at 50 people and started last January. I met with Peter and then each of the board members in two different states over a two-day period and it became evident quickly to both parties we had a match.

“Discussions were expedited. In regard to me doing any due diligence, I have known Southern Cross Austereo and its different parts for a very long time and I helped create and execute the affiliation agreement that lasted for 10 years.

“A lot of the executives in the company I have known in one way or another for over my 30 years in media.”

Blackley again noted he is not there to fix just one thing. “The key issues are to look at the total operations to improve each and every aspect to make it a far stronger company than it is today and to bring the worth and value back it has enjoyed in the past.”

As to people Blackley at Southern Cross Austereo has crossed paths with before, he replied: “I have known quite a few people from Guy Dobson down. I haven’t spoken to Andrea Ingham yet but I have had meetings with her in the past. I know Jeremy Simpson well as he has been in the market for a very long time.”

Blackley is also familiar with much of the talent. “During my time at Ten we were the first successful broadcast home for Hamish and Andy when they elected to sign with us. We also worked for many years with Eddie McGuire who started as a reporter for Network Ten.”

>> Grant Blackley: life after ten

The incoming SCA chief executive has been with Keystone Group for nearly 18 months and he had come to a critical point in his contract. “I either had to re-sign after the initial 12 months or I didn’t. A few opportunities came my way and I decided to choose Southern Cross Austereo. I resigned and finished on Friday June 5.”

The former Ten Network CEO will squeeze in two weeks of leave before he starts his new job on June 29. He will relinquish any director role as Keystone.

Four Seasons Media is Blackley’s own private company that has made some investments and done consulting. The company will continue to exist but the boss will wind down its operations. Blackley is also a partner with Hugh Marks in the RGM Artists management business and he noted the Southern Cross Austereo board is comfortable with his involvement there. “I am talking with the other shareholder [Marks] to see what will happen. I will step back from any management decisions and keep it as a passive investment.”

Marks has been running the RGM business they took over with limited input from Blackley.

Radio ratings: Survey three was released less than three weeks before he starts his new job and Blackley said he took more interest in the results than he normally would have. “I am delighted that radio ratings come out eight times a year instead of daily as they do in television.

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