Business Spectator and Eureka Report figurehead Alan Kohler has stepped down as CEO to focus on journalism and strategy, as the websites’ controlling company hires fresh blood to expand its burgeoning finance news empire.

In a statement released exclusively to Crikey this morning, Kohler revealed his resignation as Australian Independent Business Media’s chief executive after a period of soul searching following the recent hiring of two senior executives.

“I have come to realise that my greatest value to the business is not as CEO. The CEO role requires a dedication of time to oversight and administration that takes me away from business development and strategy, as well as my own journalism both for our company and for the ABC,” he said.

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On Monday, former NineMSN national sales director Nicholas Gray punched in as the new general manager and publisher of the Business Spectator Group, which includes the sites Climate Spectator and the fledgling Technology Spectator alongside the original mothership launched in 2007. And back in March, former Macquarie Bank executive James Leplaw was tapped by Kohler to oversee the business side of Eureka Report, a popular finance advice site.

“This provides an opportunity for me to better contribute to the success of the company through my own journalism and through my strategic input and leadership, while leaving James and Nicholas clear to manage the company day to day,” Kohler explained.

“As the company’s founder, largest shareholder Editor in Chief and still an executive director, I will continue to work with staff, my colleagues on the board and the shareholder group to fulfill all of our company’s great potential.”

Kohler will remain founder, executive director and editor-in-chief of AIBM, of which he is the dominant 29% shareholder. (James Kirby, investment bankers Mark Carnegie and John Wylie, columnists Steve Bartholomeusz and Robert Gottliebsen and Crikey publisher Eric Beecher round out the registry). Gray and Leplaw will report to the 4-person board, of which Kohler is a member.

In addition to his managerial duties, Kohler maintains one of the most demanding schedules in modern journalism, fronting the popular 90-second finance slot on ABC News across the country and writing lengthy weekly columns for both Eureka Report and Business Spectator. He is the host of Sunday morning’s Inside Business and also chairs Louise Adler’s Melbourne University Publishing.

Kohler did not say what extra, if any, new personal journalism initiatives were planned and stayed mum on new business strategies. But he strongly suggested it was simply time to step back from the daily grind.

“For the sake of the business and for the sake of my own sanity this is the right move,” Kohler told Crikey. “The business is heading in the right direction and these changes will entrench that.”

On the editorial side, Kirby will continue as managing editor of Business Spectator and Eureka Report‘s output, with James Frost remaining Eureka‘s editor. Chief financial officer John Coyne will report to new hires Gray and Leplaw (and Kirby will also report to the duo on commercial issues).

Eureka, founded by Kohler in 2005, remains the success story of the stable with 15,000 subscribers paying $385 a year to access DIY-share tips and superannuation advice. It is understood to command about three-quarters of the group’s total revenue.

Kohler told Crikey that while Eureka continued to increase its subscriber base, Business Spectator — which launched in October 2007 — was still “getting there” when it came to raking in cash. The combined business is believed to be worth somewhere between $20 and $30 million on revenue of $8.5 million.

The managerial moves may fuel rumours over a looming sale of AIBM to either Fairfax or News Limited. Last week, The Australian Financial Review‘s Street Talk column published an unsourced tip claiming that AIBM had once entered into discussions with News. But Kohler specifically ruled that out this morning, slamming the item as “rubbish”.

In February, The Australian published several stories claiming incoming Fairfax chief Greg Hywood was also sniffing around, a suggestion also rejected by Kohler and AIBM insiders.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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