Photo: Financial Times photos

Britain's top female boss, Marjorie Scardino, resigns

CEO of Pearson, Dame Marjorie Scardino has announced that she is to step down from the top job after 16 years.

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

Publisher Pearson has announced that arguably Britain’s most senior and high profile female exec, Dame Marjorie Scardino, is to step down on January 1, 2013, handing over the reigns to the existing head of the group’s education division, John Fallon. Scardino, who is 65, was the first woman ever to take the helm at a FTSE 100 company back in 1997. She has been one of the City’s longest serving CEOs and has seen Pearson grow its revenues from £2bn to £6bn, with profits also tripling to £942m. Wowser.

To do all this, she spent some years completely refocusing the business. In the first years there she oversaw the sale of non-core assets such as investment bank Lazard, entertainment business Tussauds Group, and broadcaster RTL. Then came the acquisitions that focused the company on educational products and services. Pearson acquired the education assets of Simon and Schuster from Viacom, and also bought National Computer Systems, an American educational testing and data management company, for around $2.4bn. It also owns paperback publisher Penguin, and in more recent years, acquired Wall Street English in China, as part of its push into emerging economies.

Pearson’s chairman, Glen Moreno, said: ‘Under Marjorie’s leadership, Pearson has fundamentally shifted its business portfolio towards all kinds of learning, its geographic exposure towards fast-growing economies and its product mix towards digital and services.’ He’s right about the digital bit – despite the tough conditions that many publishers have faced with declining print revenues, Pearson expects to make around half of its 2012 revenue from digital and online service. That means that digital will produce more revenue this year than the whole business did back in 1997. 

Dame Marjorie’s successor, John Fallon, has spent the last few years pushing the business out into the explosive economies such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa. He’s obviously good with the bottom line, too, because since 2002 his international education division of Pearson has seen profits from £12m to £200m. 

Fallon said: ‘Marjorie’s legacy is a company with a strong performance record, a deep commitment to its wider social purpose and a unique culture.’ And in the same statement, published by Pearson, Marjorie offered her vote of confidence to boot: ‘I know that John, the board, the senior team and our 40,000 people have the bravery, imagination and decency to lead the company to new ways of achieving [its] goals.’ Touching stuff, guys.

Pearson also owns the FT, but it has absolutely refused to put it up for sale despite many calls over the years for it to do so. Will Scardino’s retirement mark a turning point in the corporate attitude to its media flagship?


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