Power 100 2015: 5-2

PrintWeek Team
Monday, December 14, 2015

Welcome to the Power 100, our 14th annual ranking of the industry’s power brokers. The 100 individuals in this year’s list make up much of the DNA of our great industry – from thoroughbred entrepreneurs, confirmed technophiles, inspirational leaders, innovators and strong silent types.

5 (2014: 10)

Mark Scanlon, Walstead Investments

Why It’s been a big year for Walstead chairman Mark Scanlon. And it could get even bigger, depending how things pan out at Polestar. Who would have imagined that Wyndeham Group’s owner would expand into gravure, of all processes, and in Spain, of all countries? But that’s exactly what Scanlon and his co-directors did, buying Bertelsmann’s Spanish web and gravure businesses in May via sister company Walstead Capital. The acquired businesses have sales of just over £100m, meaning Walstead’s print operations now have a combined turnover that’s in the same ballpark as Polestar. Possibly even bigger, depending how Walstead’s, and Polestar’s, 2015 results turn out. Fitness fan Scanlon even managed to arrive at the signing of the Spanish deal by bike, having serendipitously arranged a cycling holiday with a route that concluded in Barcelona. One might say the planets are in alignment for the fast-thinking and fast-acting Scanlon, who seems to have special powers when it comes to being in the know about events in his sphere of interest. He’s always on the go, and just a month after the Spanish buy, Wyndeham moved swiftly to acquire the key bindery assets of Artisan on the back of an agreement with key client Argos. It made the group the biggest perfect binder in the country. And who knows what Walstead might do next in Europe? We hear that the Spanish deal has resulted in a flurry of interest in the British investors from the owners of printing businesses in other areas of the continent. At the moment, though, his attention is very much on unfolding events here on this small island. And now, Scanlon’s propelling pencil must be working overtime as he plots the likely future shape of UK publication printing in the face of events surrounding the latest financial crisis at Polestar. 

4 (2014: 3)

Andy Blundell, Communisis

Why To call 2015 an eventful year for Communisis CEO Blundell would be an understatement. His business posted sales growth of 27% for the year ended 31 December 2014, marking its fifth consecutive year of sales growth, and has been working hard towards another year of double-digit growth. The firm’s international revenues increased by 36% to £66.5m, accounting for 19% of its turnover. Indeed, international expansion has been a key theme for Blundell this year, with the business opening new offices in Bucharest, Milan and Warsaw. While acquisitive Communisis continued to buy this year, its January acquisition of shopper marketing agency Life Marketing Consultancy – the biggest purchase yet for the current management team – has not yet performed as well as hoped. The company originally anticipated the deal could reach £23.3m over three years but issued a profit warning in November because Life was “taking longer than anticipated to contribute its projected earnings”. 2016 looks more positive for the agency though as Communisis said some new Life business is yet to come on-stream. Acquisitions are, however, far from the only thing that’s been keeping Blundell busy this year. In September his company appointed Pitney Bowes as a long-term transactional mail hardware and software supplier as part of a 10-year contract that will see Pitney Bowes roll out mail insertion equipment and software at Communisis’ Copley site. The business also moved substantially into the insurance sector after securing a six-year contract from Axa UK for both incoming and outgoing marketing and operational customer communication services. Associates say Blundell, who is partial to a spot of salmon fishing outside of work, “very much leads from the front” by spending significant time with clients and motivating others to do the same while his leadership style is described as “considered, measured and motivational”.

3 (2014: 1)

Barry Hibbert, Polestar

Why Last year Hibbert was number one in this poll. This year, we did wonder at one point whether he’d be in it at all – just a few weeks ago there was some speculation that he’d be gone by Christmas. Yet at the time of typing he remained in the hot seat at Polestar, a seat that has been at vindaloo level in recent weeks. This was, after all, the year when everything was supposed to come good at the group, per this prescient observation from a keen observer of the business in the 2014 edition of this poll: “With BGP out of the way, new presses and all of Time Inc’s work, there can be no more excuses.” And yet. As the Power 100 2015 went to press it was like déjà vu and Groundhog Day all rolled into one. Another financial crunch for the UK’s largest publications printer, and another change of ownership as Proventus Capital Partners was forced to secure the £90m investment it made in the group just seven months ago by taking over from Sun Capital Partners as the owner of the £216m-turnover business. Barry has done it again, bringing to bear his famous drive and never-say-die attitude to a situation that would have surely been the undoing of lesser mortals. Staff, customers, and creditors can breathe again. One former colleague says: “I have no doubt that Barry will ensure that Polestar continues to trade and maintain its dominant position within the industry. He is striving, rightly so, to achieve a funding plan that ensures the success of the business for the next four-to-five years and has the ability to ride the inevitable market shrinkage. What I do know is that there is only one individual who has the passion, desire and stamina to stay the course and ensure Polestar’s success and that is Barry!” As for the man himself, quizzed by PrintWeek about his appetite for continuing in the role, he said: “While the shareholders still want me and I’m still motivated I’m staying put. I have no plans to go anywhere.”

2 (2014: 2)

Patrick Crean, Paragon Group

Why It’s been another big year for Paragon’s enigmatic chief executive. Crean and his team show no sign of slowing down when it comes to M&A activity, with the recent purchase of £100m-turnover German data and direct marketing firm MeillerGHP set to propel sales at the group to more than £400m next year. Perhaps all this deal-making is not surprising as Crean cut his teeth at Clondalkin, and then went on to become a key part of the team at the highly-acquisitive Adare Group. His time working with Nelson Loane, described as his “mentor” seems to have proved formative. Time and again, Paragon has made a success of businesses that have failed under their previous owners. “He rescues other people’s failures”, says one admirer, who also highlights his enthusiasm for technology, which is proving a key element of the Paragon offering – the group now has more than a million registered users on its e-Solution platforms. Crean himself could hardly be more low-profile and you won’t find him flaunting the trappings of success. He’s more likely to be found driving around in a beaten up old car – or even more likely a hire car while on his travels – than in a swanky set of executive wheels. “He works ridiculous hours and hurtles around the globe getting on and off planes,” says a colleague. And as Paragon now has more than 150 locations (80 of those at customer sites) and is extending its reach in Europe and North America, it’s easy to see why he’s constantly on the go. That said, he’s also described as being a great developer of his management team. “He lets people get on with making their bit of the business successful,” says one. What next? There’s a view that Crean has a £1bn turnover target in his sites, and who would bet against him achieving it?


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