THE ANDREW DAVIDSON INTERVIEW - CAROLINE MARLAND - Ex-model turned newspaper chief Caroline Marland has turned around the fortunes of the flagging Guardian and is now battling to do the same with the loss-making Observer. With her chameleon-like qualities, she seems able to sell anything to anyone.
I am being asked a lot of favours these days. 'Oh, you can't put that in, please, no ...' Caroline Marland, managing director of the national newspaper division of the Guardian Media Group plc (what a mouthful, let's just call her boss of the Guardian) is in a flap. She has told me something personal, nothing to do with management, just her being typically open, and now, a month later, she is worried I am going to use it. Marland, remember, deals with journalists every day. I must rewrite, please.
Then I get the editor of the Guardian on the phone (sound of big guns being rolled out).
'Caroline is in a flap.'
'I know Caroline is in a flap.'
'That's just her, she's too open, too trusting.'
Then I am talking to her husband. That's Caroline, he says, that's why I love her, her openness is infectious, always totally straight with everyone. But you understand why she is worried.
'You're so nice, Andrew,' she says again. Which, for some reason, worries her ...
It all started a month earlier. I was sitting in the anteroom outside Marland's office at the Guardian in London. The day was hot and humid; you could feel the perspiration dripping off the walls of the non air-conditioned, decidedly unglamorous, third-floor Farringdon Road suite. Marland was nowhere to be seen, stuck in traffic on her way back after lunch. A man and two women were arguing about an expenses claim outside her door.
'Apparently it's for Indian neck massage.'
'Indian neck massage. They had to work late and they say they can claim for it.'
'What? You have got to be kidding.'
'That's what they say.'
They frown. Better say no, says one. Well, says another, there are ways of saying it, nicely and not so nicely. At the Guardian, the only national newspaper group run by a charitable trust (the Scott Trust which owns 100% of GMG), they try to do it nicely.
'Oh, sorry I am late, have you got everything you want? Coffee? Water?' Marland wafts in like a cool breeze, very tall, very composed, strong features, angular profile, immaculately dressed in shirt, jacket and very short skirt. She used to be a couturier's model, it transpires, way back in the Audrey Hepburn days, when her mum ran her own public relations company and the swinging 60s had barely got started. Since then Marland, now 53, has spent half a lifetime in the newspaper industry and latterly emerged, in her current guise as boss of the Guardian and the Observer, as its most senior female executive.
She beams a large, toothy smile that seems to stretch from lobe to lobe. The smile carries with it a large fan club. You cannot move in London for people wanting to tell you how much they like Marland. It is not just that she engenders respect for the drive with which she has worked her way up in a male-dominated industry without compromising her own values, nor is it the charity work or the regular dolloping out of favours for which she is renowned - she is, apparently, a great helper of friends in need.
Nor is it plain sympathy. Many of her colleagues know she suffers from a rare fibro-cystic disease that dramatically increases her chances of breast cancer. Because of this, she has to endure regular, gruelling check-ups - hence her personal interest in improving fund-raising for cancer research charities.
It is just, well, that openness and straightforwardness again. People like Marland, and they want to be liked by her, it seems. In that, she is quite an unusual boss. Warm, occasionally ditzy and always seductively self-effacing, she is one of those lucky executives who seems to have fallen into every promotion without treading on toes. She is also one of life's great enthusers, and we all love that.
'Oh, I really liked your piece on ...' She speaks with a golly-gosh accent that sounds expensively elocuted - she was actually born in Ireland - and she wrestles with her skirt on the sofa, constantly tugging it down as if it has a life of its own. It is a compelling spectacle. She keeps telling me writers are wonderful, and how much she loves working with journalists. She tells me all sorts of stuff. She even goes off on an entertaining digression about the new American power shower in her London flat ...
How should I take this? Ah, laughs one of her friends, you're right, Marland is a wonderful flirt with men, but you would be a fool to underestimate her. As she has proved throughout most of her working life, she is an accomplished manager who can sell anyone anything and make them feel quite marvellous about it too.
Just look at the figures. Under Marland's direction, the Guardian, after years of flagging finances, has become a much sharper business (around £11 million profit on £139 million turnover, she says), confident enough to take over the Observer too, and coolly sit out the recent cover price wars instigated by Rupert Murdoch's Times. It has also robustly fought off a series of high-profile legal actions launched by the likes of Neil Hamilton, Jonathan Aitken and others, all of which would have left most newspaper managers quaking under their desks.
On top of all that, Marland is actually married to a former Conservative MP, Paul Marland, her second husband, who only lost his seat in the last election. That she survived the conflict of interest in both the Hamilton and Aitken cases is testament to the high regard in which she was held in the industry. It also, frankly, astonished some of her friends.
'I suppose it is funny that I'm married to a Tory MP,' she says, rolling her eyes and making a face. She has a habit of wriggling her eyebrows as if mocking herself. 'Paul wasn't a mate of Aitken but he knew Neil Hamilton well. We have an office at home in Gloucestershire and we share a desk, and while the Hamilton case was going on, I had half the desk covered in the Hamilton stuff, and Paul had the other half covered in leaflets to get him re-elected! We laughed about the conflict but the one thing we never did was discuss it.'
Her husband, who now advises Conservative central office on new candidates, says that there was never a problem, they were just glad that Private Eye didn't really get hold of it. Equally, most of Paul Marland's constituents never guessed where his wife worked, or indeed how successful she was.
Friends say she was careful to play the part of dutiful Tory wife, changing from stylish power suit to frumpy dress on the train down to her husband's constituency at weekends. Paul Marland remembers one old lady patting her on the arm at a function and saying, 'We're so glad you have got a little job in London to keep you occupied while Paul is in the House of Commons.'
But apart from this innocent subterfuge, the pair were always as open about Caroline Marland's position - it was just a job - as they were about Paul Marland's Lloyds losses a decade before. Some believe these losses may have focused Mrs Marland's ambitions rather sharply (earning enough to save the Gloucestershire farm and the London flat would be a powerful motivator at work) but if that was true she would have jumped ship long before now. She has had lucrative offers from other newspaper groups, all of whom would have paid her far more than the Guardian. Why has she stayed put? She says she loves it there. Another colleague suggests that she is smart enough to know that, in an industry where many managers rule by fear and focus only on short-term gain, her style might not fit in elsewhere.
That style is to delegate easily, to enthuse and to bond, keeping a tight team around her, just as she did when she made her name running the classified department. 'She works on intuition and warmth and inclusion and persuasion,' says Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian's editor. You have to be careful, though, he adds. 'She is very unconfrontational and will try and wrap you round her little finger long before you realise you have been wrapped.'
The style permeates her team, where she has promoted a number of strong, female managers with different skills to her own - not 'little Marlands', she stresses. She won't tolerate bullies. 'Whenever I have spotted a bully here they are out straight away. They can wreck peoples' lives.' She is also passionately loyal to the Guardian's core values, but she sees no contradiction in taking the sort of tough management decisions that might seem out of character for a do-it-nicely organisation. 'A lot of journalists will say they work here for less money than they could get elsewhere because they believe in what the Guardian and Observer are all about. My job is to manage the money and I am not doing them any good if I lead them down the Swanee.'
She says she gets her business nous from her mother, Peggy Ramsden, a vivacious Irishwoman who ended up running PR for Lord Kagan (of Gannex macs fame). Her mum worked to support her father, an English mural painter and film publicist who was a lot older than his wife. Marland, born in Dublin, was the eldest of their three children. She was educated initially at Quaker boarding school in Ireland and then, after her parents moved to London, at a stage school. 'I didn't want to go on stage but Mum probably thought it would be good for me.'
Why? She laughs. 'I was very tall and it gave me confidence.'
She went on to work as a model for couturiers in Mayfair and in Paris. By this time her mother's business was booming. Watching her handle people gave Marland her first insight into management. 'I remember her telling me: always be smart enough to hire people brighter than yourself. I believe that to this day. And always create teams. Don't try to do everything on your own.'
Eventually her mother moved the business to Huddersfield, to be closer to Kagan. Marland worked there for a time, before falling out with her mother, and taking a job as a telephone sales girl on the Yorkshire Post.
And there, with that mix of luck and energy that so often determines success, she blossomed. Telephone sales was in its infancy, a whole new world waiting to be mapped out and conquered. She started selling space to car dealers, then moved on to property, then to training others. It was a key time for her.
'It taught me how to sell, and I reckon the most important thing about selling anything is to give people what they think they want, even if they don't really want it. I also learnt to be chameleon-like, to adapt myself to the situation I found myself in, and to listen. If you don't listen you don't sell anything.'
Chameleon-like? Meaning, occasionally she pretends to be stupider than she is, to put people - men, especially - at ease?
The smile becomes a puzzled frown. 'No,' she says firmly. 'Never.'
She was clearly good at sales. She moved back to London, and was quickly offered jobs on the Times, the Sunday Times and the Evening Standard.
She chose the Times, where they sent her off on 'every management course known to man' but would never let her manage anything. So she looked around and in 1976 she took a job at the Guardian. She had read they had a female home news editor. 'I thought they must all be liberated there,' she laughs.
At the Guardian she is credited with revolutionising the classified sales market, working closely with editor Peter Preston to produce new editorial sections with regular ad slots such as creative and media, education, and society. When she started out, she could barely get a job ad in the paper - most went into the Telegraph and the Times. 'Are you mad?' advertisers would say. 'We don't want all those social workers and teachers applying!' But after some adroit campaigning, aimed at convincing advertisers that the readers of the other broadsheets were just too old for the ads they were running, it all took off. Now the Guardian carries around 50% of the total newspaper recruitment market, and according to Preston, most of that success, which provides the bedrock of the paper's financial stability, is down to Marland.
She worked her way up from classified sales manager to deputy ad director to ad director - the first woman ad director on Fleet Street. Once deputy managing director she set her sights on the top, according to friends, deliberately putting herself on the market as a potential plc non-executive, and finding a slot on the board of the Arcadia retail group, so no one could accuse her of lacking experience outside ad sales.
Now as boss of the Guardian she happily deals with printing plants, cover price wars, new media strategy, unions and the like, but her style of management hasn't changed: very personal, yet with plenty of steel behind the charm and a strong emphasis on the team. She is brilliant, says one, at delegating to fill the gaps. 'For instance, even her best friend wouldn't say she was the world's greatest number cruncher,' says a colleague, 'but she has someone else to provide that expertise.'
Marland fought through dreadful sexism, too. As the first female newspaper ad director, she was shunned by her male peers on rival titles. They dubbed her 'Perrier Queen' because of her refusal to conduct business in the traditional manner, over four-hour boozy lunches. Then there were the advertisers who would come into the Guardian and ask her, 'My dear, when is your boss coming?' And even her own chiefs on the Guardian who would offer the blokes a whisky after union negotiations and then say, 'Caroline, I think I've got a Campari for you.' It wasn't hard to feel slightly excluded.
She laughs while she tells me all this, but others say she had to be very determined to get where she is. There have been sacrifices, not least her first family. She married and had a child early on in her career, at 21, but her first husband left her for another woman and later won custody of their daughter. This collapse in her private life was a crucial motivator, she says.
'I poured myself into work because I had nothing else, I found terrific security there. I was always the one who could do all the holiday dates, I was always here. You don't choose for those sorts of things to happen to you, but you can see that in a situation like that, work becomes very important.'
For a moment she looks rather wretched, then she perks up.
'I never thought, though, that I would get this far.'
She leans over conspiratorially. 'I always think I am going to get found out, you know.'
She married Paul Marland in 1983 in Dublin, a few years after they were introduced by a mutual friend. Their marriage certificate is framed in green above their bed at home. Does Marland feel very Irish? Her husband, who was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, laughs and says she's 'very Irish when she's in Ireland'.
Ireland is their great bond, he adds, a place where they have had lots of wonderful times together. Another friend describes Paul Marland as 'the wind beneath Caroline's wings', always supportive, never demanding that his career take priority - an unusual trait for an MP. 'A good part of the reason that she has been so successful is that he has been behind her 100%,' says the friend.
That includes attending every medical check-up she has endured with her. These checks involve twice-yearly hospital visits - she has been going since she was 30. Now the doctors tell her immediately if she is clear, but in the early days she would have to wait for a phone call. That must have been gruelling. When the Royal Marsden hospital asked her to help on its recent push to raise £25 million she chaired the marketing and media committee, thinking up schemes to get industry to pledge money in return for sorting out specific problems: making contacts, entertaining clients. It was a huge success.
'The day I walked in for my check-up and didn't have to wait in a Nissen hut and didn't have a machine that hurt like hell, and we helped with that machine ...' She doesn't finish the sentence, but another broad smile creases her face. You can tell that she feels she has done something that really counts.
So much so that eventually she wants to go off and do it full-time. She won't talk about her exit but many expect her to leave the Guardian some time next year. Clearly she feels the clock is ticking. She has a pet project she wants to launch, continuing the fund-raising initiative, and a husband she wants to see more of.
Before that, she has to sort out the Observer, and to plot a course for the newspapers through the internet jungle.
The Observer, estimated to be losing £9 million a year on a £30 million turnover, has proved to be a mighty problem. Marland has been through editor after editor and needs to reassure staff that the title has a future.
She is trying to plot out some solid sources of revenue, concentrating on classified areas - lawyers, accountants - that won't cannibalise the Guardian's income. It is not just a case of turning the paper into the Guardian on Sunday, though.
The Sunday market is completely different to the daily, and anyway only 35% of Guardian readers take the Observer. As the Independent and others have found out, the Sunday newspaper market is a dangerous swamp at the moment. And any speculation that Marland is due to quit will leave her dead in the water as a boss at a crucial time.
'But what are you going to put? We are really worried about this,' she says, before I leave. Let's call in Camilla, the corporate PR. (As in Camilla the corporate PR who didn't want her to give this interview in the first place.)
That, I say, would complicate things. You're right, she replies, looking as if she hasn't got a strategy for this at all.
It also begs some questions: if her exit is a secret, why does everyone I speak to know she is probably going? Likewise the fuss about the personal stuff. Why tell me if it's such a problem?
Because I didn't expect you to ask, she says. The answer takes me aback.
Well, that's Caroline, says her husband, her colleagues and her friends.
I may think she is being calculating, but really she is just too open for her own good. The key, says someone who works with her, is that for a boss, she is unusually vulnerable. She works on intuition, and just occasionally it gets her in a tangle. That is what is so winning about her.
And in the end, in our last phone conversation, just before she jets off on holiday, she laughs and tells me to write what I want.
MARLAND IN A MINUTE
1946:Born in Dublin. Educated in Ireland and at Ada Foster stage school, London
1969: Joins Yorkshire Post as telephone saleswoman
1972: Joins the Times, managing sales of personal columns
1976: Moves to the Guardian as telephone sales manager
1979: Appointed classified sales manager, the Guardian
1981: Appointed deputy advertising director, the Guardian
1983: Appointed advertising director, the Guardian
1984: Joins board of Guardian Newspapers Ltd, named advertising woman of the year by Adwomen Association
1987: Appointed deputy managing director, the Guardian
1995: Appointed managing director, national newspaper division, Guardian Media Group
Caroline Marland is also a non-executive director of Arcadia plc, and sits on the Council of the Institute of Directors, the board of ASBOF, the Government Advisary Committee on Advertising and the newspaper panel of the Competition Commission. She is also a fellow of both the Royal Society of Arts and CAM, and a member of Women in Advertising and Communication London.