Jun 19, 2012

Beecher: Corbett, the functionary, sees Fairfax die on his watch

Eight years ago, then-Fairfax chairman Dean Wills invited me to his home to ask me to think about the future of his company’s broadsheet newspapers. They didn't listen then, and they're not listening now.

Eric Beecher — Chairman of Private Media (publisher of <em>Crikey</em>)

Eric Beecher

Chairman of Private Media (publisher of Crikey)

Eight years ago, then-Fairfax chairman Dean Wills invited me to his sprawling Sydney home to ask me to think about the future of his company’s broadsheet newspapers. Spend a month or two, he proposed, write a report and present it to the board.

These were the first words I wrote in that 33-page report:

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42 thoughts on “Beecher: Corbett, the functionary, sees Fairfax die on his watch

  1. John

    Corbett was a grocer. They use newspaper to wrap rubbish rather than to read rubbish.
    Stage 4 (Salvation) is an interesting topic which should be explored in the light of Corbett’s strong Christian faith.
    I told Roger some years ago that at least Mussolini could get the trains to run on time whereas Corbett couldn’t even get his presses to run on time. The SMH was too often late to arrive. Now, it looks like it may be D.O.A.

  2. Benny123

    Eric, lets see the voting records for Corbett’s ascendancy.

    The fool is not to blame, those who elevate him are.

  3. Mark Duffett

    If anyone ever tries to tell me again that stratospheric management payments are justified because there is a ‘shortage of executive talent’, I will refer them to this excoriation. Supposedly Corbett was one of the best going around – yet any mug could have done what he has, and probably better.

    It is time the whole cult of managerialism was done away with.

  4. drovers cat

    I think Corbett has achieved what he set out to do.
    A triumph of ideology over management.

  5. Gavin Moodie

    I thank Beecher for this informative piece. I had believed that Hilmer warranted most blame for not changing Fairfax when it was already overdue during his time as ceo, but from this and from comments by former Age editors it seems that management and senior staff had less say in Fairfax’s strategy than the board.

  6. View Balanced

    What an interesting article, thank you Eric Beecher. Roger Corbett has a lot to answer for.

  7. Schoo M

    I’m still not sure how cutting editorial staff will not lead to a reduction in story quality. I dropped my subscription to the Age a couple of years ago when it started to resemble New Idea. I’m happy to pay for quality journalism and analysis (Crikey, New Matilda etc) but not to read masterchef recaps and 11,000 articles gushing about cafes, footballers girlfriends and regurgitated stories from overseas. Add Gina’s alleged editorial agenda into the mix and I will simply avoid Fairfax once teh paywall coems up (as most people now do with News Lts) and stick to the ABC.

    Has anyone commented on the significant capital expenditure Farifax have undertaken in the last 10 years – the new print plant in Tullarmarine and the fancy pants building at Docklands seem rather wasteful now dont they?

  8. Stephen

    The Woolies ‘T Rex’ business model is based on strong-arming everyone – suppliers, staff, customers, councils, regulators, governments, and so forth.

    Doesn’t play so well in the media, Roger. Or maybe it does, if your name is Gina?

  9. IC-1101

    A fascinating and shockingly honest article. Thank you.

    This paragraph affects me the most:

    “When Corbett leaves the board – which will almost certainly be sooner than he had anticipated – how much culpability will he hold for ruining two of the most valuable institutions in Australian democracy?”

    I’ve been asking that question in my head over and over again.

  10. Nightingale John

    I’m not surprised at Eric’s comments and judgements. I recall Roger as a young man, accountancy student and church youth guru. His career has been a confirmation of his obvious self-confidence and self-belief. One of his fellow Grace Bros cadets in the part time accountancy major at UNSW was Mick Grace. So much for our joking about his future with such a contemporary! One has to admire his career and life choices, despite his Christian principles doubtless being troubled by his overseeing Woolworths becoming the biggest gambling and alcohol retailer in the country, not to mention smokes.

    As an academic economist with some interest in business managements’ abilities, I’ve always been intrigued by the inability of boards to make rational decisions. Herbert Simon’s seminal work on business decisionmaking (never consider more than 3 options, always choose the first feasible option, keep the others in reserve for next time so as to avoid having to search again) does seem characteristic.

    What could businesses achieve if the best minds went into business (er…, and got their way)?

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