Head of Business for NZME

CEO a contender from day one

Incoming leader of media group NZME says he took the top job to grow the business, not to tear things apart.
Financial analysts were surprised when award-winning chief financial officer Michael Boggs stepped away from Tower to join NZME last year. Photo / Michael Craig
Financial analysts were surprised when award-winning chief financial officer Michael Boggs stepped away from Tower to join NZME last year. Photo / Michael Craig

Michael Boggs' fingerprints were already all over media powerhouse NZME before he was announced as the new chief executive.

As chief financial officer, he has clearly been involved in all key decisions during the company's rapid growth phase.

But the media industry was still surprised to see a CFO taking up the reins after the charismatic Jane Hastings' resignation was announced this week.

Boggs, in fact, had made it clear during his initial courtship with Hastings, who was NZME's inaugural chief executive, and APN group CFO Jeff Howard, that he wanted to be a future contender for CEO.

"I certainly came into the business wanting to be part of the succession plan," Boggs says. "I did have that conversation, which I am sure many people on the executive team did.

"Any great leader will make sure they build a succession plan of talented people and I think Jane's done an exceptional job of that."

Both Boggs and Hastings, who is already handing over the baton well ahead of the incoming CEO's formal April 8 start date, affirm they have been "partners" in the business.

"It is a simple handover as he has played a key role in building our vision and delivering where we are today," she explains.

That said, Boggs reveals that Ciaran Davis - who is chief executive of NZME's Australian parent APN News & Media - gave him the chance to revisit plans when he accepted his promotion ("I was asked if I believe in the budget").

The simple answer was "Yes - let's press ahead".

The Australasian media has effectively been in play since Malcolm Turnbull announced plans to change Australia's laws on cross-media ownership.

Already, APN has put its Australian regional newspapers on the block. There has inevitably been speculation here that the APN board - which recently canned an IPO proposal which would have seen NZME listed on the NZX - might sell its 100 per cent-owned NZ subsidiary.

But Boggs says his strategic direction is to grow NZME (short for New Zealand Media and Entertainment), which is the result of merging the Herald, a string of regional newspapers, the radio business TRN and GrabOne into an integrated media powerhouse.

He paints a picture of NZME becoming an integrator within the NZ media business, playing a strong consolidating role in a sector which has been challenged by digital disruption and declining revenue.

"I'm not about pulling the business apart," he emphasises.

Boggs spent a lot of time walking the floors at NZME Central in the 24-48 hours after his appointment was announced.

He had been called back into the Herald on Wednesday evening, after editor Murray Kirkness noticed the PR publicity shot did not show him sporting his natty new beard.

He then headed into the NewstalkZB studio, where host Marcus Lush was about to go to an ad break. "I stopped to say 'Hello', and he asked me what I was doing. I introduced myself and Marcus said when he goes down to Invercargill in five weeks time he wants to show me around." A subsequent photo shoot resulted in a promise to spend a day with the videographers learning what they do.

I know what it means to invest in and grow a great business.
Michael Boggs

Most new CEOs don't have the time to do that.

But Boggs is presenting his appointment as business as usual.

Hastings had already run APN's radio business, TRN, before her appointment as overall chief executive of APN's NZ assets. She was used to dealing with major talent and the egos that go with it. Asked how Boggs would find it now he also has to deal with some of the biggest egos in the business, he says, "we pay them to have an opinion and I love to hear that opinion."

Financial analysts had been surprised when Boggs stepped away from Tower to join NZME last year.

Named the country's top chief financial officer at the 2014 New Zealand CFO Awards, he had led the sale of Tower's life insurance, health insurance and investment management businesses.

Judge Jonathan Mason said then: "Tower had to go through an enormous change and it is not easy to divest several different parts of a business and create a new business unit, all the while maintaining a reasonable level of overhead, but Michael Boggs delivered it.

"The financial statements of the assets for sale were spot on and the whole process went very well." Boggs had a can-do attitude, an engaging personality and a focus on creating shareholder value "which propelled him beyond just being an accountant."

At Tower, Boggs worked closely with chairman Michael Stiassny, who he credits as one of the sharpest brains in NZ business. "I worked for two CEOs with quite different styles in my time there," he says. "I learnt a lot from both of them."

The two NZME chief executives - outgoing and incoming - have different styles and backgrounds.

Hastings' career has taken her to Asia and Australia, while Boggs has been NZ-based - though he did run Tower's Pacific Islands business.

By training he is a chartered accountant, and was the third employee in The Alternative Telecommunications Company, which over time morphed into Clear Communications, where he worked with industry legend Andrew Makin.

He later had a period driving sales for TelstraClear (which emerged from a merger of TelstraSaturn and Clear).

"I know what it means to invest in and grow a great business," he says.

"I did a really good job while I transitioned out of my last role at Tower," he recalls. "But I knew what I was coming to would be all-consuming and I jumped straight into it. I was coming into an industry with lots of change ahead of it and with a leader who was up for making the change and was well supported to make the change.

"Those are all great ingredients for being involved with something great."

Boggs nominates digital, video and events as having major growth potential for the company.

A move to a full-blown paywall for the Herald is not planned. But a registration system will be introduced.

He considers the Herald is the "heritage" part of the business - the cornerstone of a lot of content.

There has been plenty of speculation in Australia that the proprietors of some major newspaper titles will close their Monday-to-Friday editions and simply put all their content online during weekdays, but Boggs says there is no plan to do that with the Herald.

"Customers tell us that's what they want. They enjoy the different content we produce each day within the printed product, where we appeal to a different audience." NZME is "heavily investing" in its video business WatchMe, which has already launched new shows to attract a male audience in their early twenties, with a focus on NZ content.

"We've also said we will produce a lot more content and partner with others to get further content to put on that platform," says Boggs. Expanding NZME's social presence is also a priority.

He makes the point that NZME has to create content that is audience-centric and that everyone wants.

"I've got an 11-year-old boy and 13-year-old girl; the content they want to engage in is different to what I want or my mum wants."

Boggs' daughter Madison "lives on her mobile phone", is focused on Instagram and videos; son Cooper is into games; his 75-year-old mother is getting an iPad.

He suggests the shift to NZME Central and merger of the various business was a "cultural experiment."

"But I am delighted to see how well we are cohabiting."

Michael Boggs

• Age: 47

• Aucklander, "born and bred"

• Downtime: Ferries the kids about and heads off to his Coromandel beach house

• Not widely known: Jumped off the SkyTower with four other CFOs just hours before being awarded CFO of the Year

• Media habits: Gets up to check the news on his smartphone; reads the physical Herald on arrival at NZME Central between 6.30 and 7am ("my time"); stays digitally in touch through the day through alerts; catches up on long reads on hIs iPad in the evening. Also listens to Mike Hosking on NewstalkZB (and checks competitors) and tunes into Drive. Saturdays and Sundays: delves into the weekend papers.

- NZ Herald

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