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Panpa Bulletin : September 2006
44 | PANPA BULLETIN September 2006 Dynasties end with a whimper, not a bang (cont d) These three families and the three Ipswich families had joined together in April 1968 to ward off perceived threats of takeover from the metropolitan press, especially from Rupert Murdoch and Sir Frank Packer. The very protective devices the families chose, how- ever, would eventually lead to the demise of the dynasties. They wanted public listing on the Stock Exchange and in 1971, when the perceived threats of takeover firmed into actual of- fers, the PNQ group allowed Queensland Newspapers Pty Ltd to take a 30 per cent inter- est. Queensland Newspapers was a subsidiary of Queensland Press Ltd, which was 40 per cent owned by HWT. This outside in- terest in PNQ gradually increased over the years and contained the seeds of destruction. At Ipswich, Gregory Steph- enson, a former editor of the Queensland Times, says he was the only member of the three families to oppose the merger. "I was very much against PNQ," he said. "I could see what was going to happen. We got a raw deal on share allocation as we found out when it became clear what a mess some of the other papers were in. I was the only one who voted against it." The Irwin family welcomed the merger because their Warwick Daily News was the smallest of the Queensland dailies, and was struggling to make a profit. It would never have been able to aff- ord to convert to web offset print- ing and computerised typesetting without the backing of PNQ. Although PNQ engaged in a program of upgrading produc- tion facilities at its various news- papers, it did not neglect expan- sionary opportunities. In 1975 it bought the Gladstone Observer from News Ltd, which had con- verted the paper in stages from a bi-weekly to a five-times-a-week publication. It also bought the Callide-Dawson News. In 1978, PNQ converted its steadily growing interest in the Bundaberg News-Mail to total ownership. On July 7, 1980, PNQ used the presence it had been developing on the Sunshine Coast through the purchase of various weeklies in the 1970s, combined with the Dunns' 1964 purchase of the Nambour Chronicle, from the McFadden family, to launch a new daily, published from Maroochydore. Despite a financial struggle in the first few years, the PNQ fami- lies backed the continuation of the Sunshine Coast Daily. It stead- ily became a strong performer, building its circulation to 21,052 by September 1993 in a region with a population then of 125,000 and against fierce competi- tion from the long-established Brisbane daily, the Courier-Mail. In the second half of last year the Daily sold 23,552 on weekdays and 39,679 on Saturdays. [The Daily launched the Sunshine Coast Sunday on June 14, 1992.] PNQ's annual net profit in- creased from $317,000 in 1968 to $681,000 in 1975, $1,919,000 in 1980, and $4,510,000 in 1985. In 1987-88, its final year of operation as PNQ, the profit was $4 million. Even though PNQ succumbed to external forces, internally the financial interests of the families in the company had steadily been eroded over the years. In addition, the family members of the third generation failed to recognise the needs of the future in making proper management appoint- ments as the family moved into the fourth generation. The fourth-generation mem- bers seemed to lack the degree of interest in being involved in newspapers and the drive and dy- namism that the first, second and (some of the) third generation Dunns, Mannings, Irwins and Ipswich families had exhibited. In a 1975 American study of family businesses, 35 per cent of all companies sold cited lack of management depth or succes- sors as a key reason for selling out. Many families abandon the effort at succession because they feel it will destroy the family. PNQ was confronted with just such a potential problem, but did not acknowledge it. It finally paid the price for the nepotism that had been evident in key ex- ecutive appointments over the years, such as at the Morning Bulletin, Rockhampton, in the 1960s and 1970s. A wide range of sources strong- ly questioned the wisdom of ap- pointing Rob Hollingworth, a fourth-generation Irwin, as chief executive of PNQ at a time of great turmoil in media ownership in Australia. When Hollingworth took the reins, Murdoch had been, for seven months, the major share- holder on the PNQ list through his takeover of HWT that lifted to nearly 49 per cent his PNQ stake. Hollingworth was generally re- garded as a "compromise" choice in lieu of a Manning nominee and a Dunn nominee. The selection of either would have split the PNQ board. PNQ did assign a head-hunting firm to propose some names but the directors rejected those names. When it came to the crunch in 1987-88, with Murdoch's pres- ence already a grim reality, the key PNQ family members seemed to lack the knowledge of, or desire to indulge in, the hard-headed street-brawling tactics of the dog-eat-dog metropolitan media world and failed to amount any sort of challenge to the demise of the dynasties. Many family businesses find that the family itself becomes a stumbling block. In PNQ's case, there were six families that had become dynasties and they struck a much bigger stumbling block. "The dynasties died," one observer remarked, "because they were dynasties." In some minds the disintegra- tion of PNQ is traced as far back as the formation of the group. Bruce Manning, a PNQ director 1985-88 and a third-generation member of the Mackay Mannings, re- called that when the PNQ merger was first being recommended to the family companies, he had discussed it with Henry John Manning, his "uncle Jack". Jack Manning had propounded the advantages of the merger. "One of those was said to be the -- well, it would stop the indi- vidual newspapers being picked off by the metropolitans; in other words, to stop ourselves being taken over. "I said to him well don't you think by putting ourselves togeth- er like this we might become just a vehicle for a one-off takeover, and his comment to me was: 'No, too big, too big, son.'" PNQ became Australian Provincial Newspapers Ltd (APN) on November 2, 1988, and on March 3, 1989, the senior staff members, including chief execu- tive Rob Hollingworth, from the pre-takeover days, were sacked. Rod Kirkpatrick is Program Director, Journalism, at the University of Queensland. When Hollingworth took the reins, Murdoch had been, for seven months, the major shareholder on the PNQ list through his takeover of HWT that lifted to nearly 49 per cent his PNQ stake. Hollingworth was generally regarded as a "compromise" choice in lieu of a Manning nominee and a Dunn nominee. "Don t you think by putting ourselves together like this we might become just a vehicle for a one-o takeover, and his comment to me was: No, too big, too big, son "
November December 2006