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APN Outdoor boss James Warburton to exit business

APN Outdoor CEO James Warburton will leave the company following the completion of JC Decaux’s acquisition.

It will mark the end of a busy 10 months for the executive, who joined APN Outdoor after four years as CEO of V8 Supercars.

Warburton joined the company earlier this year

The media executive has not yet determined his next role, but he told Mumbrella it would need to be within a business focused on innovation and transformation, noting it didn’t have to be within media.

“Outdoor was going to be such a good opportunity, which obviously it’s proved to be. Obviously it’s a bit quicker than I would’ve liked. I would’ve liked to have run it for a few more years,” he said.

“Business as usual opportunities tend to be… I find more difficult. It’s actually about finding something where we can fuel growth and that’s not necessarily industry specific and it’s something that you have to be passionate about. I’ve been passionate about the vast majority of all of my jobs and the industries I’ve worked in and I’ve been really passionate about, and will continue to be really passionate about outdoor.”

Warburton replaced long-standing APN Outdoor CEO Richard Herring, a move which saw him return to the media industry he had built his success on. Before Supercars, Warburton held a number of successful roles leading Seven’s commercial operation and Universal McCann. He left media in 2013 after a short stint as CEO of Network Ten.

Once nicknamed “Mr Ambitious”, Warburton had been seen as a future boss of Seven where he was chief sales officer, but in 2011 was poached by shareholder Lachlan Murdoch to run Ten.

The move led to a legal battle with Seven over his non-compete period and once that was resolved, he was given little more than a year to turn around the network before being fired by the board.

Since joining APN Outdoor, Warburton has led the business through a brand refresh, winning tenders for Sydney Airport, Queenstown Airport, VicRoads, Roads and Maritime Services, Sydney TrainsTransport Brisbane and Transdev Melbourne, and together with the team, Warburton made the shortlist for the City of Sydney tender, despite not having experience in street furniture.

Most notably, Warburton and his team put out an indicative non-binding offer to acquire Adshel, which led to the $1.1b sale of APN Outdoor to French operator, JC Decaux.

Warburton said he is proud of his achievements, but says it is up to the industry to decide whether he woke the “sleeping giant”.

“For us it was actually about moving from being asset-led to audience-led, being sales-centric and becoming increasingly focused on the customer experience, improving earnings through flattening structures, freshening the brand and really having a much more sophisticated up-stream approach to client engagement and those types of things,” he said.

“I certainly think from the point of view of winning those major contracts, increasing our share of revenue and really driving things up-stream, I’d like to think we played a major part in increasing the awareness of the industry not only for APN Outdoor.”

Warburton said the hardest bit of his role has come in recent months, acting as “caretaker” for a business that was set to be acquired.

And although he said the acquisition by JC Decaux was “always on the cards”, he struggled with handling a business through the transition period and motivating staff.

“I’m really proud of the fact we’ll continue to motivate the organisation and we are handing over a business in incredible shape. People definitely underestimate how hard that is. I never really had an appreciation for it. I certainly do now,” he said.

Warburton added his outsider perspective of the industry brought value to the business, and argued the successful acquisition also came down to aggressive and active pursuit of acquisition. But despite leaving the industry, Warburton remains passionate about the outdoor sector.

“It’s great to see all the strides in terms of transparency, the programs like Seedooh now installed in the vast majority of operators. It needs to be in all operators quickly and it comes back to the digital measurement piece and that’s the key piece,” he said.

“Outdoor should be fighting for a greater share of revenue than it’s already getting.”

No other announcements around executive departures have been made by APN Outdoor at this time. Locally, JC Decaux is run by managing director Steve O’Connor.

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