Saturday, 31 January 2015

It's been a long week

I haven't blogged for 6 months - which is of course shameful when many colleagues are doing it on an almost daily basis. But I have an excuse! I have been secretly working on a bid for the 2nd national DAB multiplex for the last year or so - and almost every time I thought about expressing an opinion on something I wondered if the words might come back to haunt me, especially as so much going on in the industry has a "digital" element to it. So I've kept my head down - unusual for me I know.

I don't want to particularly eulogise our bid (although I'm pretty proud of the work the team have put into it, and you can read all about it here). What is in is in, and OFCOM will make their judgement - and like most external commentators I think the other group have also put in what appears a very respectable offer - so may the best man win, etc etc. And I'm sure Dee and I will continue to enjoy our occasional drunken dinners once the dust has settled, no matter who comes out on top.

I did want, however, to give you a flavour of just how exhausting a process it is to apply for these things. Many people in the radio industry at a senior level will have done deals from time to time to buy or sell businesses, and they will confirm that trying to deal with lawyers pulling the various agreements together can be extremely stressful. In fact when I bought Orion I genuinely lost a stone in weight in the last month because of the stress. Well, dealing with other potential consortium partners, pulling a shareholders’ agreement together, is exactly the same. No matter how nice your partners are (and Babcock, Folder and Sabras are all extremely nice) the sheer act of getting everyone to agree on the structure of a company is a truly challenging process, involving late nights, lots of reading endless drafts of long legal documents, and stressful calls and meetings negotiating over complex deal points.

But, of course, that's just the half of it. As many readers will also know, writing an application for an OFCOM licence is also a hugely difficult process, involving many, many fine judgements on approach,  structure and tone. I've been bidding for licences since 1994, when we got Heart 106.2 over the line at the same time as launching 100.7 Heart FM. I reckon I've headed up 15 bids altogether for major regional FM or DAB multiplex licences over the years, and I can assure you it's not got any easier.

So trying to bid for a licence as big and important as this, whilst at the same time pulling a consortium together to back it...well, what on earth was I thinking of when I first suggested it to LDC and the Orion Board back in Spring last year!

But, but, but.....I've loved it. There’s probably no better feeling for me than successfully completing a mammoth, complex project. I've especially liked doing it "under cover". I think most folk at Orion were really shocked when we announced it on Thursday (Mind you, I don't think Dee, Scott and the folks in their bid were surprised! We are an incredibly leaky industry at times).

It's great to get out of your comfort zone, and pulling this together, dealing with new people, certainly did that for me. I'm especially pleased we hooked up with Babcock International, who are a huge company, and who do things in the way huge companies normally do - with detail, thoroughness and discipline - attitudes sometimes missing from the fast-moving free and easy world we work in in radio!

It's also led me to the decision to move out of my comfort zone in a more permanent way, by stepping up to the role of Chairman of Orion Media Ltd, our main trading company. I'm no longer the owner of the corner office and the car parking spot nearest the lift - those perks go to Adrian Serle, the new CEO, who will do a great job I know. I'm still going to be heavily involved in Orion (I am still the largest individual shareholder after LDC) but will have more time to do other things that interest me.

I really hope one of them is leading Listen2Digital for many years, as it is an exciting venture to have embarked upon.

I'd always had 2015 down as the year I would "change gear", and I'm looking forward to doing some other new things as well. However, having a comparatively empty diary is both exhilarating and frightening. I'm clearly a deal junkie, and in another life could have easily ended up in the Square Mile or Wall Street, so I'm going to continue to look at the Private Equity world for new things to do. 

I'm also under a little bit of literary pressure. Two of my closest friends in Radio, John Myers and David Lloyd, are both now published writers. I think Team's book has now been remaindered (OK - no it hasn't, here's the link!) but David's book is out shortly, and you can pre-order it here .

Not sure I can match them on stories - sadly too many of my best tales have got legal non-disclosure agreements still in place! I'll guess I'll have to find another topic and get cracking later in the year no doubt.

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