What do you do when you want to
clear the air about something that didn’t go, er, according to plan?
Write a book about it. And that’s exactly what the former Fairfax CEO
Fred Hilmer is doing.

Hilmer, the business professor and
management consultant hired in 1998 to remake Fairfax, is co-writing a
book about his time as head of the newspaper group together with SMH business writer Barbara Drury.

But
how will he explain his bumpy seven-year reign, which saw Fairfax hit a
performance low? After all, according to a Credit Suisse First Boston
report released after the group’s June 2005 results, Fairfax’s share of
the metropolitan newspaper market had slipped to its lowest level in
more than a decade under Hilmer and circulation of its newspapers was outperformed
by rival News Limited in six of the eight markets in which they
competed.

Six former Fairfax executives have since argued that
the former dean of the Australian Graduate School of Management never
really got his head around the nuances of newspapers, according to The Australian‘s John Lehmann last year. And an unnamed former senior Fairfax executive described the appointment
of Fred – who early in his reign as CEO admitted he wasn’t an avid
reader of newspapers – as one of “two totally inappropriate
appointments in corporate Australia in the past decade” (the other
being Ziggy Switkowski at Telstra).

When we called Hilmer at his current post as Vice Chancellor of the University of NSW,
his assistant confirmed that the Prof is in the process of co-writing a
book about his time at Fairax, but said was premature to discuss its
content at this stage as it may not be published.

If it is
published, what will it be called? As Hilmer has already used the
obvious title in his former tome about the Australian economy – When The Luck Runs Out – here are a few alternative suggestions:

I Stuffed It My Way

Papering Over the Cracks

Hold The Presses! The Story of a Newspaper Empire That Ground to a Halt

From Newspaper to Wallpaper – a Business Professor’s Case Study

Send further suggestions to: [email protected]

Peter Fray

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