Updated: Southern Cross Austereo starts hunt for new CEO as Rhys Holleran quits



High profile media exec Rhys Holleran is quitting as CEO of TV and radio group Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) in July following a turbulent 18 months, it has been announced.

Chairman Peter Bush will fill in for Holleran in the role of executive chairman while the company hunts for a new chief executive with a “long term leadership commitment” to the company, but told Mumbrella it would not be looking outside Australia to fill the vacancy initially, but would look at executives outside of media companies.

SCA owns regional TV broadcasters and radio networks Hit and Triple M, and has been at the centre of continuing speculation about a takeover from Nine Entertainment Co.

In a statement to the ASX this morning Bush thanked Holleran for his 18 years of service leading the company, adding: “Media is an ever changing and challenging sector, requiring a further long term leadership commitment. Rhys and the board have come to the view that a change of leadership now is appropriate for both parties.”

Holleran’s decision comes at the end of a turbulent 18 months for SCA, which saw profits tumble last year as its previously top-rated radio station 2DayFM crashed to the bottom of the ratings following the loss of Kyle Sandilands and Jackie Henderson to rivals KiisFM.



Half year results in February showed revenue was down 7.3 per cent year on year to $307m, whilst earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) dropped 18 per cent, which Holleran blamed on “challenging conditions in television advertising markets and a reduced metro radio market share”. Profit dropped 24 per cent.

It also suffered as its ad revenues were hit by the tumbling ratings for Ten Network shows it broadcasts on its regional TV networks. Shares in the company (ASX: SXL) took a dip to 96c when Holleran’s departure was announced, but have recovered to $1.01. A year ago they stood at $1.20.

The company also saw chief finance officer Peter Lewis depart after just a month in the role last year amid rumours of a fall-out with the board, whilst the Today network, which has since been rebranded as the Hit Network, is facing the possibility of having its licence suspended over the royal prank call after which a nurse took her own life.

Holleran told Mumbrella whilst the last few months had been “challenging” he felt managing the company through the global financial crisis in 2007 “when we knew the business would be in freefall for at least a year” was his most challenging period.

Holleran said he had been looking at stepping back for some time, but the death of Lewis’ predecessor Stephen Kelly last January had meant he needed to stay on as a new management team bedded down.

Whilst he said the GFC was his most challenging time professionally he pointed to the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha as the most challenign “personal crisis”, saying the company had come through it “as really a better organisation”.

Both men were reluctant to be drawn on the ongoing debate around media reform, pointing to previous statements they have made with Bush adding “waiting for media consolidation laws to change is not a strategy”.

Bush, who took the chairman role from Max Moore-Wilton in Februrary, admitted the potential of a takeover from Nine could be a “distraction” in the hunt, but added “Southern Cross might look a lot better when we know how all the moving parts operate”.

He added the company would expand its search outside of the media industry to look at people who had “changed their industry” and would be able to “take Rhys’ legacy to new heights”.

On the challenges facing the company Bush admitted getting the Sydney radio operations of 2DayFM back on track was a concern

In today’s announcement Holleran said: “I have enjoyed every second of my 18 years at Southern Cross Austereo, principally because of the outstanding individuals I have worked with. To them I say a heartfelt thank you.

“Personally, I am looking forward to some new challenges but assisting Peter with a smooth transition over the coming weeks has my full attention right now.”

Holleran will depart on July 31, and said he has made “no plans” after that at this point.

Alex Hayes


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