Gina Rinehart has been gazumped by Kerry Stokes in his replacement of Seven West Media CEO David Leckie with US-born Don Voelte, the former head of gas producer Woodside Petroleum.

Just as Rinehart is said to be wanting a more favourable approach to business and mining from The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, Stokes has gone and found a miner to make sure Seven West Media gets the message, not that there was any need to make sure the message was “got”.

The West Australian is pro-mining, being the only Perth-based daily and Seven’s TV news and current affairs programs and magazines have hardly been “green” or carbon tax pushers in the past couple of years. If anything they have shied away from these and other green issues.

Leckie will take a new role as executive director of media at Seven Group Holdings, which holds investments in Seven West, earth-moving machinery distributor WesTrac and Agricultural Bank of China. Seven Group also has a share portfolio valued at about $800 million.

In effect, he will oversee Voelte at the parent company of Seven West, where he will be closer to Stokes. But Leckie will also be closer to the action should the Stokes empire decide to move on ConsMedia Holdings in which Seven has 24.4% and James Packer just over 50%. News Ltd last week signalled a $2 billion offer for ConsMedia, but Stokes could frustrate that. Leckie will be closer to this possible offer and what Seven Group can extract from ConsMedia and News in addition to the cash.

Voelte is already a director of Seven West Media, but that doesn’t make him a good media executive.

In today’s statement from Seven, Stokes was quoted as saying:

“Don is internationally recognised as one of the world’s best executives, and as a director of Seven West Media, he has made a strong contribution to the development of the business. He is acknowledged for driving businesses in challenging and competitive markets. He is a highly qualified executive who will lead a skilled management team as we take advantage of the significant opportunities in media over the coming years.

“Mr Leckie — who has successfully guided the development of Seven West Media over the past nine years — will continue his involvement in media and as part of Seven as an executive director on the board of Seven Group Holdings, which has major shareholdings in Seven West Media, Consolidated Media and Prime Media. He will also continue to be involved in Seven’s television business in an advisory and counsel role working closely with Mr Voelte and CEO of Seven Network Television, Tim Worner.”

Seven will need to keep Leckie close and happy, as well as the executives in the Seven Network in particular. Voelte may be good at driving businesses in “challenging and competitive markets”, but he has no experience in one of the most challenging and competitive markets of all in Australia, TV and magazines. His lack of experience is frightening if you look at the announcements last week from Fairfax and News Ltd, and the earnings and revenue pressures commercial TV find themselves under.

It’s all well and good to have a good CEO in the media, but without any experience in selling ads (vital) and deciding which programs should be supported and which ones should be junked (vital), Seven will be at a disadvantage to Nine and Ten, despite what Seven may argue. In media terms, Voelte is a passenger, he cannot second-guess or overrule his TV programming and sales executives (or his newspaper executives) because he doesn’t have the business experience in those industries. He can’t call upon years of contacts and knowledge of advertisers’ preferences and their executives’ foibles, nor make big calls on ad deals and sponsorships.

The appointment is a bit contemptuous: Stokes would not appoint a TV executive to run WesTrac and Voelte would not have appointed a newspaper CEO to a senior operational role when he ran Woodside. Seven argues that it had a good line of executives at Seven, Pacific and The West Australian. That is certainly the case, but you have to ask why they need a newbie to oversee them. Where will Voelte be adding much value at probably the toughest time for media in this country for years, if not decades?

Meanwhile, Ten denied other media reports that Rinehart had upped her stake in Ten.

Peter Fray

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