The last time the Seven network CEO David Leckie issued a major management statement was around October 2005 to confirm that he was not only staying, but had revamped the control and command structure at Seven to his satisfaction. This morning Seven and Mr Leckie issued another statement of equal importance, setting up one, possibly two contenders to replace him and leaving one sometimes mentioned candidate out in the cold.

The 2005 statement showed Mr Leckie was in control of management with no obvious contenders: the ostensible Number Two man was Ian Johnson, the head of HSV in Melbourne who was promoted to a position where all network station heads reported to him. Like Mr Leckie, Mr Johnson was a former senior Nine executive who left when James Packer, David Gyngell and especially John Alexander started exercising their grip on Nine about six years ago.

In this morning’s announcement Mr Johnson is to be chairman of HSV 7 in Melbourne, but the big news is that Seven Network chief financial officer, Peter Lewis, is now the main contender to replace Mr Leckie, should he decide to leave. But don’t expect that soon as Seven is saying Mr Leckie still has a number of years on his contract with the network.

But we can expect the “Seven sources” at News Ltd, Fairfax and the Nine and Ten networks to now tip Mr Leckie’s imminent departure. Mr Lewis will have the second most important management function at the network after Mr Leckie.

The statement said:

Mr Peter Lewis — currently Seven Media Group and Seven Network Limited Chief Financial Officer — has been appointed Chief Operating Officer for Seven Media Group. Mr Lewis will report to Mr Leckie. In his expanded role, Mr Lewis will continue to be responsible for the company’s finance functions, information systems and human resources, as well as now assuming management responsibility for the Seven Network’s television stations in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and the company’s regional television network, Seven Queensland — with the general managers of those stations now reporting to Mr Lewis.

The other contender is James Warburton, Seven’s sales boss. He now has a bigger role which puts him as a possible successor to Mr Leckie because of his sales knowledge.

The statement said that Mr Warburton “currently Network Director of Sales for the Seven Network — has been appointed to a newly created role, Chief Sales and Digital Officer of Seven Media Group. This role will see Mr Warburton responsible for all sales across broadcast television, magazines and online, expanding on Seven Media Group’s current success in cross-platform selling and marketing and leveraging the scale and reach of the company’s market-leading media brands.”

To accommodate that expanded role and to stop them leaving, Seven has looked after three other senior sales executives who may have decided to walk after the Warburton appointment.

“Mr Kurt Burnette — currently Sydney Sales Director — has been appointed Seven Network Director of Sales and will report to Mr Warburton. Mr Peter Zavecz continues as Commercial Director for Pacific Magazines and will report to Mr Warburton on matters relating to sales at Pacific Magazines. Ms Jenny Hosie continues as Director of Sales for Yahoo!7. Mr Warburton will continue to be a director on the board of Yahoo!7.”

Not mentioned in the changes is Seven’s programming director, Tim Worner, who some commentators have mentioned as a possible successor for Mr Leckie. These changes involved the operational side of Seven Network management, not the programming, but to get to the top you need either sales or operations experience, plus financial experience.

The Seven board is giving Mr Lewis the operational experience to go with his financial background. Having a strong sales boss will be essential, seeing he has no selling experience, just as having a strong operational and financial executive would be essential if Mr Warburton got to the top.

None though have the sort of TV programming experience that Mr Leckie gained at Nine before joining Seven. Seven’s Melbourne sales head, Lewis Martin, will move into the general manager’s role at HSV when Mr Johnson becomes chairman, which will be very soon.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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