Highfield in surprise Johnston Media switch
By Colin Mann

In a surprise next career move that has so far seen him work for digital media giants such as the BBC and Microsoft, Johnston Press plc, one of the leading regional media groups in the UK and Ireland, has revealed that Ashley Highfield will join the Company as its new Chief Executive and as a Director of the Company on 1 November 2011. He succeeds John Fry, who will stand down as Chief Executive and a Director of Johnston Press on 31 October 2011.

Highfield is currently a Vice President of Microsoft, responsible for the UK Consumer and Online business, including the UK’s largest content portal MSN. Prior to joining Microsoft, he was Director of New Media and Technology at the BBC, where he was responsible for the launch of the BBC’s iPlayer and Editor in Chief of BBC Online, following which he was CEO of Project Kangaroo, the video-on-demand BBC/ITV/C4 joint venture.

He started his career with Coopers and Lybrand Management Consultancy from where he became Managing Director of Flextech (now Virgin Media) Interactive.

Ian Russell, Chairman of Johnston Press said that Highfield’s combined online and media sector pedigree would be a major strength in enabling the company to grow its business again.

Earlier in July, Microsoft has appointed Andy Hart, a former MD of Associated Northcliffe Digital, to head up its new advertising and online (A&O) division in the UK following a global reorganisation.

Microsoft said at the time that it was looking for a new role for Highfield within the new structure, after the merger with the central marketing group to create Marketing and Operations (M&O). Highfield had been tipped to head up A&O.