Fair­fax NZ chief is a news junkie

South Waikato News - - NEWS - By FIONA ROTHER­HAM

When Si­mon Tong was a young Waikato lad liv­ing on the out­skirts of Hamil­ton, he re­calls go­ing to the dairy each Sun­day af­ter church and get­ting the pa­per, the bread and his fa­ther’s cig­a­rettes. He also used to pick up the lo­cal pa­per, the Waikato Times, flung on the drive­way and then read only the sports sec­tions.

These days, the New Zealand man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Fair­fax Media, the coun­try’s largest media or­gan­i­sa­tion and pub­lisher of South Waikato News among other print media, has a markedly dif­fer­ent way of con­sum­ing news.

The self-con­fessed news junkie gets his early morn­ing fix on his smart­phone or iPad when he wakes up – ‘‘by the looks of the sta­tis­tics I’m see­ing that’s be­com­ing more and more com­mon­place’’, Tong says.

He also has the Sun­day pa­pers de­liv­ered to his home and when he’s trav­el­ling, as he’s been do­ing a lot of lately, he’ll read the daily news­pa­pers in the de­par­ture lounge.

The fa­ther of four chil­dren, rang­ing in age from 21 to just un­der three years, ex­pects they will con­sume news via what­ever the def­i­ni­tion of mo­bile will be in fu­ture and it will be ‘‘very much video-ori­ented’’.

He thinks brands will be­come less im­por­tant than the per­son­al­ity of the jour­nal­ists pro­duc­ing the con­tent and con­sumers will look to peo­ple they trust. Tong also sug­gests fil­ter­ing will be­come sought af­ter by con­sumers be­cause of the grow­ing noise on the in­ter­net and their choices will be­come more per­sonal.

Be­fore start­ing the role in Septem­ber, Tong hadn’t con­sid­ered how those changed con­sump­tion habits would af­fect the media in­dus­try so dra­mat­i­cally.

‘‘You don’t think about it that way – it’s more about con­ve­nience, and time and place.’’

But it was that in­dus­try up­heaval fol­low­ing de­clin­ing ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enues as more read­ers turn from news­pa­per to online and the rise of so­cial media that at­tracted him. He likes a chal­lenge.

He had spent seven years as chief ex­ec­u­tive of Pay­mark, the coun­try’s big­gest elec­tronic pay­ments provider, and prior to that held se­nior man­age­ment roles with Hewlett Packard and Com­paq. ay­mark board mem­ber Stephen Franks was ini­tially wary of Tong be­cause in his view ‘‘com­puter sales­men are the mod­ern equiv­a­lent of horse deal­ers’’ – nec­es­sary but sus­pect. In­stead, Tong’s lis­ten­ing skills im­pressed him. Pay­mark is tricky to run be­cause it’s owned by a con­sor­tium of banks, which of­ten have their own agen­das, Franks says, but Tong man­aged to weld a loyal team that de­liv­ered on share­holder ex­pec­ta­tions.

When Tong re­signed Franks posted on his blog: ‘‘He can in­spire ex­traor­di­nary busi­ness loy­alty,

Pbe­cause that is what he of­fers, down and up.

‘‘He lis­tens, his ego doesn’t blind him, and he’ll do his best to keep at bay any ‘bull­shit cas­tle’ cul­ture of head of­fice.’’ ong ag­o­nised over leav­ing the IT in­dus­try and mov­ing to one he knew lit­tle about and where no-one had yet cracked how to make a de­cent profit in the mod­ern age. In fact, when ap­proached about the Fair­fax role

The had al­ready ac­cepted an­other with some friends run­ning a con­sul­tancy ser­vice for small to medium-en­ter­prises.

‘‘One of the most dif­fi­cult as­pects of tak­ing over this role was back­ing out of a hand­shake over a beer with these guys.’’

Ul­ti­mately, he couldn’t say no to the chance to lead a busi­ness of scale – some 1800 staff re­main af­ter three years of down­siz­ing.

In a re­cent note to staff he said he’d man­aged so far to get around Auck­land, Welling­ton, Christchurch, Blen­heim, Nel­son, Palmer­ston North, Feild­ing, Haw­era, New Ply­mouth, Hamil­ton, Queen­stown, Gore, Alexan­dria, In­ver­cargill, Ash­bur­ton, and Ti­maru.

He thinks say­ing ‘‘gid­day’’ to peo­ple doesn’t trans­late so well when it’s done over email.

With staff morale at an all-time low, he jokes at least it can’t get any lower.

He thought he’d have to tell peo­ple about the need for change but has in­stead found peo­ple get that and are im­pa­tient to hear what the answer is.

Some things he’s iden­ti­fied as early is­sues in­clude not hav­ing a shared view of where Fair­fax wants to be in three years and a lack of self-be­lief as a re­sult of sig­nif­i­cant change in­side the busi­ness and wider in­dus­try, plus what oth­ers say about its fu­ture prospects.

In some cases tech­nol­ogy is not work­ing that well and staff are op­er­at­ing in less than op­ti­mum sur­round­ings.

And he says the com­pany’s not yet fully har­ness­ing the huge amount of con­tent and knowl­edge it has for the ben­e­fit of cus­tomers. he old-fash­ioned, hi­er­ar­chi­cal cul­ture and cen­tralised de­ci­sion­mak­ing have also been a sur­prise.

‘‘It’s hard to be quick when you’re like that and I think it says to peo­ple ‘we’d like to trust you but we’re just not sure’. I don’t be­lieve in that sort of man­age­ment, I think you get your speed when you let peo­ple get on with it.’’

On the pos­i­tive side, the fi­nan­cial per­for­mance in the first quar­ter of the new fi­nan­cial year has been good, re­flect­ing the re­cent or­gan­i­sa­tional re­struc­tur­ing, he says. The Fair­fax of the Fu­ture re­struc­tur­ing is ex­pected to

Tde­liver A$311m in an­nu­alised cost sav­ings on both sides of the Tas­man by 2015.

In Au­gust, Fair­fax Aus­tralia posted an­nual rev­enue of A$2 bil­lion and a net loss of A$16.4m ($18.75m) af­ter tax, a ma­jor im­prove­ment on the A$2.7b loss the prior year when it slashed the value of its news­pa­per ti­tles. Rev­enues in New Zealand fell 4.7 per cent for the year to A$339m on the back of weaker ad­ver­tis­ing and off­set by costs also drop­ping 2.3 per cent. long­side pay­walls on the Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald and The Age, the Aus­tralian par­ent has iden­ti­fied four new rev­enue streams in­clud­ing beef­ing up events, data, con­tent co-cre­ation, and sell­ing digital mar­ket­ing strate­gies to small and medium busi­nesses.

Tong says his im­me­di­ate ob­jec­tive is to do some sim­ple things to im­prove ev­ery­day life and boost com­pany cul­ture. He also wants to knock off some con­tentious is­sues such as whether to in­tro­duce a pay­wall, as ri­val APN has said it will for the NZ Her­ald next year.

His main aim is to stop point­less hand-wring­ing over the state of the in­dus­try and get on with stuff, al­though he’s largely silent just yet on what that stuff will be.

‘‘We don’t have to get that per­fect.

‘‘There’s a great say­ing from a guy I know who says ’you need to be gen­er­ally right, not specif­i­cally wrong’.

AFair­fax NZ News

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.