Either Terry McCrann or John Alexander is totally wrong about what PBL Media is up to. Or there is the other option – that they’re both wrong.

McCrann has a good deal of detail on how the PBL deal was done and by whom but he reaches the bold conclusion that: “The PBL Media funding structure is not one that could sustain further major debt for acquisitions.”

Which appears to be somewhat at odds with the bold promise Little Johnny was making in the Oz to more than double in size to $10 billion plus in three years – the sort of story private equiteers like CVC have to hear to encourage them to risk their billions.

No-one’s proposing PBL Media’s current assets are going to organically double in three years – certainly not the way Channel Nine is being run and with the ACP magazine business peaking.

And then there’s Alexander’s further brave statement that his new company will be taking over the world, not just Australia:

He said the choice of private equity group CVC Asia Pacific to buy half of the PBL Media arm…. was partly a result of its plans for international acquisitions.

“Their commitment to international as well as domestic growth and the chemistry between our team and their management team were the factors that got them over the line,” he said.

Alexander has been very adept at developing chemistry with those he chooses to duchess. Kerry Packer thought he was the best media executive he’s ever worked with. But what JA will have to do as executive chairman of PBL Media is actually deliver. His ability to do that is more questionable.

His big success for Kerry Packer was in savagely and successfully cutting costs in the magazine business and thus making it much more profitable. Beyond that though, his achievements are much less visible.

Alexander failed to deliver on his promise to slice $30 million from Channel Nine’s costs when he was directly running the network. His subsequent tactic of installing other people and telling them to do it is yet to prove sustainable, to put it kindly.

As others have observed, Ninemsn’s first starter advantage is being rapidly eroded, the Sky News stake is very small beer and the internet car classifieds business has strong opposition.

To make a flurry of acquisitions work, there is another major talent required beyond cutting staff numbers and reducing print runs to shrink returns. It’s Alexander’s greatest weakness, people skills.

The email he sent to PBL staff yesterday was his funniest effort since the one saying nepotism wouldn’t be tolerated in the company. As reported in CBD, JA reckons: “One of the key reasons CVC decided to invest was the quality of our people. You are our biggest asset.”

Too bad it’s an asset he’s treated with such disdain.

Peter Fray

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