City heavyweights on ITV chairman list

ITV chairman candidates thought to include John Peace of Standard Chartered, HMV's Robert Swannell, John Gildersleeve of Carphone Warehouse and former banker John Nelson

Friday 6 November 2009

John Peace of Standard Chartered: a potential ITV chairman?

ITV's search for a new chairman may be nearing an end, with heavyweight City figures including John Peace, the chairman of Standard Chartered, emerging as potential candidates.

Peace has been linked to the ITV role alongside the chairman of HMV, Robert Swannell, the chairman of Carphone Warehouse, John Gildersleeve, and John Nelson, former chairman of investment bank CSFB Europe. Bob Wigley, the former head of Merrill Lynch in Europe, now chairman of Yell, has also been approached.

Michael Grade announced in April that he would step down as executive chairman and originally planned to stay on as part-time non-executive chairman with a new chief executive working under him, despite pressure from shareholders who wanted him to leave ITV.

The company has also been searching for a new chief executive for nearly six months but the favoured candidate, HMV's Simon Fox, turned down the job over the summer, and talks with the former BSkyB boss Tony Ball broke down acrimoniously in late September.

On the same day that ITV announced it had broken off negotiations with Ball, it also revealed that Grade would not stay on as planned. Both leading contenders for his non-executive chairman role – the former BMI chairman Sir Michael Bishop, and Sir Crispin Davies, who used to run Reed Elsevier – have since ruled themselves out.

Peace is the former chief executive of Argos owner Great Universal Stores (GUS), who broke up the retail conglomerate before going on to run Burberry, one of the GUS businesses he demerged.

Nelson was one of the Square Mile's most senior figures when he left Credit Suisse in 2002. He chairs the property company Hammerson and was made deputy chairman of Kingfisher in June.

Swannell, another investment banker, is a former chairman of the European arm of Citigroup and holds non-executive positions at the property group British Land and the venture capitalists 3i.

Gildersleeve, 64, is a former Tesco executive who retired from the supermarket chain in 2004, and has served on the boards of some of Britain's biggest companies, including Vodafone and EMI Group.

The search for Grade's successor is being led by Sir James Crosby, ITV's senior non-executive director. An appointment is not expected until the end of the month at the earliest.

While the search for new leadership drags on, there were further signs that the company's fortunes are improving after a difficult year of plunging advertising revenue and recession-induced cuts.

ITV issued an update on Thursday forecasting that advertising revenue would be up 4% year on year in December after almost 18 months of falling income. Across the last three months of 2009, it is projecting that ad revenues will be flat compared with the same period last year. The City reacted positively to the upbeat near-term forecast with ITV's share price jumping nearly 10% to end up 4.27p at 48.8p.

ITV also reported that total revenue was down 11% year-on-year to £1.3bn in the nine months to the end of September. Within this, its broadcasting and online revenues were down 12% to £1.08bn in the first nine months.

However, – home of the broadcaster's online playback service – has continued to flourish, with revenue up 45% year-on-year to £16m. Video views have more than trebled to 150m year-on-year to the end of September.

In further piece of good news for ITV released after the market closed , the company announced it had re-signed Saturday Night Takeaway and Britain's Got Talent hosts Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly to a new two-year "golden handcuffs" deal, ending months of speculation that the top entertainment stars might break their nine-year exclusive relationship with the broadcaster. The duo will front a new peaktime entertainment show on ITV1 next year, with the working title Push the Button.