Johnston Press — the embattled owner of The Scotsman, the i newspaper, the Yorkshire Post and about 200 local newspapers and websites — said Ashley Highfield has resigned from his directorship and his position as chief executive officer.
“Ashley is leaving for family reasons and in order to fulfil his plans to transition to a be a ‘plural’ non-executive director as the next phase of his career,” said Johnston Press.
“As a result of Ashley’s resignation, Johnston Press will appoint David King, currently chief financial officer, to replace Ashley as CEO.
“David will step into the role of CEO with effect from the AGM. David’s replacement will be announced in due course.”
Johnston Press chair Camilla Rhodes said: “On behalf of the board, I would like to thank Ashley for his significant contribution since becoming CEO in 2011.
“We are sorry that he felt that his personal circumstances required a change at this time.
“Ashley oversaw the successful acquisition of the i newspaper, has driven growth in our digital footprint, while making substantial progress in reorganising and restructuring our business.
“We wish him every success in the next phase of his career. I am pleased to announce that David King will step up to become CEO.
“David has worked closely with the Board on our strategic review of financing options.
“I am confident that David will prove to be a strong leader and his transition to the CEO role provides stability to the business at this important time.”
Highfield said: “I have been privileged to lead Johnston Press during a period of unprecedented turbulence in our industry.
“Since 2011 we have grown our overall audience in particular our digital business, created an industry leading tele-sales operation and maintained margins.
“The acquisition of the i newspaper has been a particular highlight.
“I am proud of what the board and my colleagues have achieved and would like to thank them all for their support.
“I wish David every success in his new role.”
King is a chartered accountant. He joined the Johnston Press in 2013 as CFO.
Previously, he was CEO at Time Out Group, the print and digital entertainment information business and CFO of BBC Worldwide.
He previously worked in financial services and as a management consultant with Coopers & Lybrand (now PwC).
Highfield’s last day as CEO will be June 5, 2018.
He will not receive any salary after this date and there will be no further payments in lieu of notice.
He previously decided to defer his bonus of £249,000, granted to him in respect of achievement of 2017 targets.
Custos Group, the investor which owns around 20% of Johnston Press, told Reuters it welcomed the changes and said it would take the opportunity to re-engage with the company.
Custos Group was critical of the outgoing chief executive.
“I will initiate contact with the company again to sort out the mess that Ashley put the company into,” Custos chief executive Christen Ager-Hanssen told Reuters.
Custos said in November it would push for the appointment of Scotland’s former first minister Alex Salmond as the publisher’s chairman.