The company is still owned by its founder,Michael (now Lord) Heseltine, the former UK Deputy Prime Minister. The charismatic centre-right politician was nicknamed “Tarzan” after he waved the parliament’s ceremonial mace above his head in noisy protest at his opponents. Neither he nor his company have ever lacked confidence or energy.
Haymarket’s roots were in the “Directory of Opportunities for Graduates” published in 1957 by Heseltine and an Oxford University friend Clive Labovitch. It consisted of text entries paid for by potential employers. The first edition had 169 paid pages and was followed by the “Directory of Opportunities for School Leavers” and the “Directory of Opportunities for Qualified Men” (it was the 1950s).
The successful venture gave the two friends the cash and confidence to expand their publishing horizons. Heseltine abandoned his accounting studies as their company Cornmarket relaunched the fashionable Town magazine. It became influential in the awakening London of the early 1960s, with a star-studded cast of writers and photographers including Lawrence Durrell, Kingsley Amis, Michael Parkinson, Terence Donovan and David Bailey. It made a huge splash – but no profits.
The company also failed with its relaunch of the British news weekly Topic, which they bought with a borrowed £50k (the equivalent of £750k today). It folded after just three few months.
The two business partners split in 1966. Heseltine renamed his half of the business “Haymarket” to publish Town (until it closed in 1968) and Management Today which – inspired by Time Inc’s Fortune – sought to combine serious business writing with the look and feel of a luxury consumer magazine.
A sense of style
Management Today was full of flair, good writing and innovative design: a taste of what was to come from the fledgling company. Over the next 10 years, Haymarket was fizzing with magazine launches and acquisitions: Campaign, Practical Caravan, GP, Autosport, Accountancy Age, What Car?, Computing, Horticulture Week, and What HiFi?
But Heseltine – who has always invested in property as well as media – was directly running the company for only the first five years. Having been elected a UK Member of Parliament in 1966, he became a government minister in 1970.
He duly put his shares into a family trust and handed over Haymarket’s management for most of the succeeding 27 years to Lindsay Masters as chairman and Simon Tindall, as managing director. It was the start of one of the UK’s most turbulent decades for politics and business. But Heseltine could never have imagined how successful the company would become in his absence.
Profiles of the rising political star told of a self-made millionaire who had built one of the country’s most successful magazine groups before going into parliament. But, although he had set the company up for its future success, the stories were slightly ahead of their time.
A Heseltine biographer described his “totally chaotic business” coming close to bankruptcy in 1962 when borrowings reached an extraordinary £250k, as a result of magazine and residential property losses. Haymarket had taken on its share of the Cornmarket debts and was financially fragile for several years. The energetic founder kept his nerve and the company made its first real profit (£136k) in 1969. But it so nearly didn’t happen.
Rescued by the printer
Haymarket’s prospects were transformed by an amazing three-stage deal with the British Printing Corporation (the sprawling print group that would later be owned by Robert Maxwell). It started as a 1964 rescue deal to give BPC a 49% share in Haymarket in lieu of the publisher’s mounting print debts. By 1967, BPC injected a further £150k into the business, increased its shareholding to 60% and – best of all – merged Haymarket with BPC’s own magazines which included Autosport, World’s Press News, and the long-forgotten Carpet News Weekly, Practical Scooter & Moped, and the Scrap Trade Directory.
In addition to cancelling its debt, the deal doubled the company’s size, gave it the cash to grow and provided subsidised printing. But there was more. BPC provided £250k to buy the MIMS medical directory and GP fortnightly newspaper. So, what had started as a rescue of the debt-laden publisher eventually became a launch-pad for rapid expansion. Not for the first or last time, Michael Heseltine had played a blinder in his on-the-brink negotiations.
Then, in 1970, when BPC itself ran into trouble, he and some banks bought back its shares for just £1m, a low price but “BPC needed all the money it could get”. The shareholding banks also lent the company £800k. Haymarket was on its way, Heseltine was again the majority shareholder – and the newspaper stories about the “self-made multi-millionaire” began in earnest.
In 1969, he had come up with the idea of Accountancy Age, a weekly newspaper which recouped all its launch costs in four weeks, just before he left to became a government minister. By 1973, the fast-growing publisher was riding high on its way to an IPO. Its profits had been doubling each year and had been expected to reach £1m. But the Middle East oil crisis caused a stock market collapse and, as Heseltine said later, “we abandoned the flotation…and all of us who were shareholders have been profoundly grateful ever since.”
The company was always opportunistic. In 1981, it sold the recruitment-rich weekly newspapers Accountancy Age and Computing to the Dutch publisher VNU for £17m. The papers accounted for about one-third of the company and most of the proceeds were used to pay-off borrowings. To anybody who believed the stories about Haymarket’s huge financial success, it was a surprising divestment. But, finally, the founder was in good financial shape. And so was his company.
Haymarket people were ultra-competitive, creative and hungry for success. They were a bumpy mix of posh Brits and young tigers who used the best designers, journalists and sales people. The excitement flowed from distinctive magazines, celebration parties and a world where Simon Tindall would call in his 10 favourite staffers of the moment and treat them to dinner in the fashionable Kensington Place restaurant followed by an England international football match at Wembley.
Read the rest of this article at Colin Morrison’s blog
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