Succession in the real world: Why SCA’s Grant Blackley is handing over to John Kelly

Grant Blackley

GB: ‘This is not retirement, but to take the learnings I have got to work overseas’

Departing SCA chief executive Grant Blackley isn’t done with the media world yet. He tells Mediaweek where he’d like to work next. Meanwhile, new CEO John Kelly is relishing his new challenge and tells of his immediate plans.

Succession planning not just for the CEO

Grant Blackley: “There’s no question that every public company, or private one for that matter, should have a succession plan. On an annual basis, SCA would go through succession planning not just for myself, but for the whole leadership team. It is done formally and the results are presented to the board.”

Blackley said the company went a step further in 2022, bringing an external consultant. “We mapped successors for the leadership team and myself. That was leaked last year, but it was just a part of our normal planning. If you are not doing this, shareholders have a right to be surprised and critical.

After Blackley’s departure was revealed Monday, he said he had been approached by key advisors and shareholders, happy that this was such a seamless transition.

See also:
Grant Blackley exits SCA, board appoints John Kelly as Managing Director and CEO

What triggered the decision to depart now?

GB: “I have been in this industry for 38 years, 18 as a CEO. We are halfway through our current strategy cycle…it seemed the right time.

“With a succession plan in place, the board executed the handover process.”

Blackley said he suggested to the board there could be three timings where he would walk out the door for a last time: the AGM in October, the results in August or on June 30.

“The latter was my preference as it gives the successor the opportunity to own the year and steer the business into the new FY.”

John Kelly

Choosing the successor

GB: “John was the natural standout for an internal successor. Over the last 12 months, we have embraced John to make sure he was CEO-ready across the whole business. That made it a very easy decision for the board.

“It was the board’s decision, but I fully support it.”

CEO with finance background

Although he comes from a finance background, John Kelly told Mediaweek he sees himself very much as management after seven years as a COO.

After being a chartered accountant early in life, Kelly was CFO of Network Ten aged 32.

JK: “I spent years in that role and really enjoyed it. My stated ambition when I left Ten was to have a broader management role. Back in the glory days, Network Ten was a $3.5b business with 39.9% margins and $274m in EBITDA. They were big numbers and we were very disciplined in every part of our business. All of the focus was being the most profitable company in the sector, which we were for many years.”

Across his journey, Kelly had plenty of content experience from working on broadcast rights during some time with the FFA.

“When I joined SCA seven years ago it was as COO, not CFO, and the focus was on strategy. Major agreements and partnership in those years have included AFL, NRL and TV affiliation with Paramount. Plus the partnerships LiSTNR has with companies like Wondery, Stitcher and others.

“My resume seems well rounded with perhaps the exception of sales.”

GB: “Over the years John has also been actively involved with myself and Dave Cameron in talent negotiations and strategy across the business.”

JK’s to-do list

Two things that Blackley won’t get to sign off on before he departs are the possible branding of SCA to LiSTNR and an exit from the regional TV business.

However, the departing and the new CEO see other priorities.

GB:Priority #1 is riding the recovery in earnings for the radio and wider audio market. Covid had at times a devasting impact and radio hasn’t fully recovered.

“Getting LiSTNR to a break-even cash flow position is #2 so it is no longer a drag on earnings. That must go in harmony with the market recovery.

“When and if SCA rebrands as LiSTNR it will have earned the right to do that.”

JK: “The job of restoring and building shareholder value is the #1 imperative. My business approach is asking for high accountability from our teams – content, sales, marketing and technology. Delivering the best possible earnings we can will be our primary focus for 2024 and beyond.

How big a bet was LiSTNR?

Blackley admitted that it was a big call to launch LiSTNR and to wrap all the audio offerings within it. Convincing the board was the first job.

GB:We talked to everyone globally to find what we thought would be the right audio ecosystem. Because we couldn’t get one off the shelf, we built our own. The board came fully on board with our vision and then it was about how much to invest and how to best execute the strategy.”

Blackley said the company was striding toward being cashflow breakeven for LiSTNR.

Grant Blackley

Grant Blackley

What’s next for Grant Blackley?

When he checks out of SCA World Square HQ, Blackley is taking a longish trek through Europe. Something he also did last time he was between jobs.

It wouldn’t be surprising if he squeezed in some job interviews while crossing the continent.

“My primary ambition is not retirement, but to take the learnings I have got to potentially work overseas. I have never had the opportunity to work or live in another country in a business I could add value to. I’d like to explore that and it is my #1 priority.

Blackley wouldn’t comment if he might already have something in mind, but he did say he speaks to many people internationally about many things.

He is not going to avoid joining another public company. “Whether it be public or private, I don’t have a preference for either.”

He has presented his last SCA results though, with Kelly to deliver the full-year numbers in August.

Blackley has in the past invested in smaller companies, one in partnership with Hugh Marks. He doesn’t currently have any other private media investments.

He has had job offers for various things since joining SCA, including taking on other board and non-executive positions. He much prefers the power that comes with executive office.

Blackley is no stranger to the world stage

See also:
SCA’s Grant Blackley tells international market about five-year digital transformation
Grant Blackley at RadioDays Europe: Broadcaster getting deeper into video

Kelly and Blackley: The next 60 days

JK: “There are three major things I will focus on before Grant departs. I will meet with every one of the management team to get their thoughts on the company and their personal situation within it.

“Grant and I will be spending time in particular with all external partners. Including things like CRA, FreeTV and our government relations. The latter two were things I worked with a lot at Ten.

As we are not replacing the COO role, I will look to redistribute the functions that I currently have. While it will be a cost saving to the business, we need to ensure those roles are managed effectively by other leadership team members.”

SCA Leadership Team

The team that will be taking on various duties previously handled by the COO.

Dave Cameron, Chief Content Officer
Tim Young, Chief Financial Officer
Stephen Haddad, Chief Technology Officer
Nikki Clarkson, Chief Marketing Officer
Rebecca Ackland, Chief People and Culture Officer
Brian Gallagher, Chief Sales Officer

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