Bay print boss heads for big city role

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Simon Ellis plans to remain in the Bay when he takes up the new role, commuting to Auckland where PMP has its main operation.
Simon Ellis plans to remain in the Bay when he takes up the new role, commuting to Auckland where PMP has its main operation.

Former Bay of Plenty Times general manager Simon Ellis will bring an extensive background in newspapers and print to his latest role as managing director of New Zealand's largest commercial printer, PMP NZ.

A Tauranga resident since 2000, he plans to remain in the Bay when he takes up the new role at the end of May, commuting to Auckland where PMP has its main operation.

But colleagues say he will be sorely missed as chief executive of Whakatane-based Beacon Media Group, where he has spent the past five years.

At Beacon, an independent group in which NZME has a longstanding 20 per cent holding, he oversees eight media companies spread across the Bay of Plenty, Waikato/King Country and Hawke's Bay. Business activities range from digital, web design and commercial printing, to newspaper publishing and commercial newspaper contract printing. The group owns and publishes the Whakatane Beacon, Waitomo News, Bay Weekend and Opotiki News.

Beacon Group managing director John Spring described him as having old school values.

"He's very trustworthy, honest and hardworking, and very dedicated to the job and the business. Printing and publishing is his forte. He's just been great."

Mr Spring said one of Mr Ellis' key achievements had been setting up from scratch Beacon Printing Hawke's Bay, a major new operation in Hastings, which won the contract to print NZME's lower North Island papers.

"It was a big win for us and has turned out to be very successful," said Mr Spring.

Mr Ellis has worked for both of New Zealand's two major newspaper groups, NZME (formerly APN) and Fairfax (formerly INL).

Born in the UK, he and his Kiwi mother returned to New Zealand when he was 2. He grew up in Taneatua in the Eastern Bay of Plenty until the age of 8, and lived with his grandparents who owned the Taneatua Hotel. His mother was a dental nurse and operated in one of the mobile clinics in the area. The family then moved to Hamilton. He left school in 1979 to join INL as a marketing management cadet at the Waikato Times.

"They put you around all parts of the business - circulation, sales, accounts, payroll, and country branch experience," he said.

He began moving up through the company, with his first senior role as manager of community paper the Hamilton Press, then the Taupo Times. He returned to Hamilton to take over the Times' commercial print operations, then moved on to a become production operations manager for the Waikato Times, looking after the paper's computer systems and pre-press print systems. He eventually spent 21 years with INL, leaving just before its acquisition by Fairfax.

He is a past president of the Printing Industries Association of Auckland and has also served on the Printing Industries Federation of NZ, which he helped restructure and rebrand as PrintNZ. He was made a life member of PrintNZ in 2008, and currently represents the Bay of Plenty.

In 2000 he was head-hunted by Wilson & Horton as general manager of the Bay of Plenty Times. Wilson & Horton was acquired the following year by Australia's APN (now NZME).

He moved to Tauranga and after about 18 months also took over responsibility for the Rotorua Daily Post, the Northern Advocate in Whangarei, and 20-plus community newspapers from Taupo to Kaitaia, eventually becoming APN's northern regional manager.

In 2011, APN was going through a period of restructuring and wanted Mr Ellis to take a more senior Auckland-based role. Unwilling to leave Tauranga, and anticipating further change in Auckland, he opted instead to leave and was head-hunted by Mr Spring at the Beacon.

"We've been busy restructuring the business and growing it," said Mr Ellis.

The group prints about 1.4 million daily newspapers a week, as well as 57 community titles, many of them independently owned.

In addition to setting up the new print operation in Hawke's Bay, Mr Ellis also led the Whakatane Beacon's transition from broadsheet to tabloid, and developed its online strategy.

"These are pretty challenging times for daily newspapers with the web-based products, but with the community papers we're seeing the market to be pretty stable," he said.

The Whakatane Beacon comes out three days a week. It has opted to put its digital content behind a paywall, accessible to home delivery subscribers. There has been some take-up of the digital-only option, mostly to former locals now living elsewhere, he said. The Beacon keeps its online version updated daily.

"We've taken a philosophy that our website is really for our local people and we are just trying to make it hyper-local about the Eastern Bay. We don't carry national news. "

Mr Ellis said he believed the approach had held home delivery subscriptions with no slippage.

In his new role at PMP NZ, he will be overseeing a company with $150 million in annual revenues turnover. Owned by ASX-listed PMP, it is the largest commercial printing operation in NZ. In addition to being a major printer of advertising brochures and flyers, it is also a major distributor to homes of the material, and in addition owns Gordon and Gotch magazine distribution.

He is currently president of the NZ Community Newspapers Association (CNA), which has its AGM later this month in Rotorua, where a decision will be needed on whether he steps down from the role.

Reay Neben, managing director of Times Newspapers Auckland, a Beacon client, who has known Mr Ellis since his Hamilton Press days, said she supported him remaining involved with CNA.

"Simon's always been fantastic to deal with," she said.

"He's great with systems and understanding technology as well as seeing and positioning where newspapers can be. His passion and his knowledge of community and regional newspapers is huge. There's not a lot of people around who have that knowledge and experience."

Big city commute on the cards

Simon Ellis says he will remain based in Tauranga and commute to Auckland, spending the week at PMP's major site in Manakau.

The company also has a smaller printing operation in Christchurch.

However, he notes that his current role has also involved regular travel, given the Beacon Group's wide span of operations.

His major recreation is badminton. He's a life member of the Te Rapa Badminton Club in Hamilton and a current member of the Tauranga Badminton Club.

Mr Ellis also sits on the group planning a new $4 million to $5 million badminton stadium for the city.

He and his wife Linda have three children aged 28, 26 and 24, with one granddaughter and another on the way.

"Downtime is with family and friends and enjoying the beach," he said.

"That's another good reason for not moving from Tauranga."

Simon Ellis:

* Roles: Chief executive, Beacon Media Group (current); managing director, PMP NZ (from 30 May); president, NZ Community Newspapers Association

* Born: United Kingdom

* Age: 57

* First job: Marketing management cadet

* Recently read: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

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