Nova’s Cathy O’Connor and Peter Charlton talk succession planning and changing the guard after 12 years

Yesterday Nova Entertainment’s longtime CEO Cathy O’Connor announced she would be stepping down from the top role after 12 years, leaving way for chief commercial officer Peter Charlton to take the position. Mumbrella’s Hannah Blackiston spoke with O’Connor and Charlton about succession planning and what it takes to lead a media business in 2020.

While yesterday’s news of Cathy O’Connor leaving Nova Entertainment, the media business she’s spent 12 years as the CEO of, came as a surprise to some, as I speak with O’Connor and her successor Peter Charlton it’s clear that a plan has been in place for some time.

“From my perspective, this is the result of succession planning and I think this is a very good example of how that process should naturally work. Peter is an outstanding executive, he’s led the commercial function at Nova for eight years, he knows the business intimately and he and I have worked together as generalists on the business,” O’Connor tells me.

“Handing over to Peter is a very natural thing for Nova to do and it acknowledges his significant career achievements and the growth in revenue and revenue share that he’s delivered.

O’Connor is leaving Nova Entertainment after 12 years as CEO

“The handover is really just continuing to work as we have done to impart knowledge on the broader business, which Peter is already very competent in. It’s a very natural process and one that started well before the opportunity of me going to Ooh.”

O’Connor will depart Nova in November, preparing for a start as the CEO of outdoor media business Ooh Media in 2021. She follows Brendon Cook in the role, the founder of Ooh and its leader for 31 years. It’s a big job and not the easiest time to switch jobs in the media industry, but O’Connor said the opportunity was too big to pass up.

“The opportunity to lead media organisations in Australia, they are limited. I’ve always said the Nova role has been such an enjoyable and creatively dynamic role, it’s never felt like 12 years of anything, every year is different. The opportunity to move on now to lead an equally as dynamic company in Ooh Media, with strong growth prospects and a wonderful position in a digital future, I just feel incredibly lucky and I can’t wait to get started,” she says.

“It’ll be a big day, the day I leave Nova, but that will be made that much easier by knowing I’m going to another, equally fantastic opportunity, in this next stage of my executive career.”

Charlton will be stepping up after eight years at Nova

As for Charlton, he’s ready for the challenge. Joining Nova in August 2012, Charlton was previously ANZ sales director at Adshel and sales director for CBS Outdoor before that. He’s very aware of how tough the market is right now, but he’s confident that with some recent structural changes, Nova is ready to tackle whatever is coming its way.

“Cath and I have worked together for a long time and we know this business well and have set the strategy for the business going forward together, as well as working through this complex time together,” he said.

His focus is firmly on the horizon, reaffirming Nova’s current strategy and focusing on getting the business in the best shape it can be when the market begins to recover. Nova is at the point now, says Charlton, where it can look at growth again.

“We have a wider established group executive team that has been in place for some time. It’s a very experienced team who understand the roles they play in the future of the business. We’ve very clear and excited about the future of the medium and the future of our brands in the medium.

“It’s a very exciting time and I’m honoured, it’s a privilege to be asked to run this business. There’s a slight element of concern – I’m taking over from Cath O’Connor who’s been CEO of Nova Entertainment for 12 years and you’re well versed in the success of our business and her outstanding reputation in the business. It’s a role I’ve aspired to, there’s been a clear succession plan that we’ve worked to, but you never take anything for granted.”

However, says Charlton, the business is in the best shape it could be for the future, and he’s confident O’Connor has left a media company that is prepped and ready to grow in the next few years.

“I think radio, and audio, is in a really strong position, even through these difficult times. We’ve seen that audiences have stayed pretty robust in our core medium and the movement towards digital listening, the strength of digital audio going forward, makes it a great time to be in radio, a great time to be in audio. There couldn’t be a better time in so far as the future of the medium to be taking over. I’m really excited about it.”


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