Hywood looks back on seven-years with 'last' report

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There was a touch of the royal 'we' when Fairfax Media chief executive Greg Hywood - who is 64 next month - looked back on his seven-year tenure as head of the Australian publisher.

"We have taken the big decisions; we have built businesses such as Domain and Stan; we have maximised the growth drivers of our core assets; we have addressed legacy cost issues to give our business time to adjust to the structural change it confronted; we have hit our stride going for growth," he told shareholders in what may be his last presentation prior to the proposed merger with Nine Entertainment.

And he argued that Fairfax's "good shape" - despite a net loss of $63.8 million after tax - was the reason they "have the opportunity to benefit from a step-change in growth through the proposed combination of our company with Nine Entertainment".

After a career which included time as a reporter on the Australian Financial Review and in the office of Victorian premier Steve Bracks - Hywood was appointed a non-executive director of Fairfax in October 2010, and was in pole position for the top job when former Rural Press head Brian McCarthy decided it was untenable two months later.

His position as chief executive and managing director was confirmed the following March.

In results presented today, he reported a fall in revenue of 3.1 per cent to $1.69 billion and a loss - compared to the previous period's $83.9 million profit - partly attributed to its decision to split Domain into a separate ASX-listed business. EBITDA excluding significant items rose 1.2 per cent to $274.2 million.

Among contributors was a 14 per cent increase in external print revenue.

Hywood said total revenue declined nine per cent, with the "relatively stable" contribution from agricultural titles offset by weakness in regional advertising and circulation, with "some impact from the closure of several unprofitable mastheads".
Declines in local and real-estate print revenue contributed to the advertising revenue result, while circulation declines reflected lower retail volumes.
Print costs - which fell eight per cent for Metro Media and six per cent for Australian Community Media - would further benefit (to the tune of $15 million a year) from new print agreements with News Corp, which offered "greater cost variabilisation, reduced capital intensity and further extend the cash generating life of print". Print expenses for Domain were cut by 15 while its print revenue declined 13 per cent.

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