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What’s next for upwardly mobile Tamara Minick-Scokalo at education-focussed Pearson?

What now for upwardly mobile executive Tamara Minick-Scokalo? I ask because her immediate boss, John Fallon, has just emerged as the future chief executive of Pearson, owner of – among other things – the Financial Times and Penguin.

When last encountered here, Minick-Scokalo – for most of her career a Procter & Gamble executive, but latterly occupying high-octane posts at Cadbury and Kraft – had managed to secure a plum job at Pearson as president of the Europe, Middle East, Africa and Caribbean elements of its international education business. She reported directly to Fallon, who was chief executive of all areas of the business outside the USA.

In one sense the choice of Fallon (left) to succeed Marjorie Scardino, CEO of Pearson for the last 16 years, is a great surprise. He’s not even on the main Pearson board yet. What’s more he’s essentially a marcoms man, having served as director of communications at Powergen before joining Pearson in 1997, and in a variety of comms roles in the public sector before that. The more usual recruiting ground for FTSE 100 company chief executives is the finance department. And, as it happens, Pearson has the perfect paper candidate: Rona Fairhead, chief executive of Financial Times Group. Right age (about 50, the same age as Fallon); right sex; right background, as former chief financial officer of Pearson; and already a main board member to boot.

So why Fallon? Look at his record. It cannot be an accident that in the five years he occupied Minick-Scokalo’s current role, and the four since in which he has been chief executive of the division, international education has become the mainstay of Pearson’s reputation – not to mention its credibility with shareholders. For once, I cannot put it better than the company statement on the subject:

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“With more than 15,000 people in 70 countries, this division is fundamental to Pearson’s growth strategy. Under John’s leadership, international education sales have increased from £322m to £1.4bn and profits from £12m to almost £200m in the past decade.” It should be added that Fallon has also demonstrated a shrewd talent for acquisitions – a reassuring quality in any future leader of a global company. These include the Wall Street English education business and the China-based Global Education and Technology Group. By way of perspective, profits across the ramshackle Pearson empire as a whole totalled £942m in 2011.

Fallon seems likely to continue Scardino’s strategy of pruning Pearson’s over-extended interests – which at one time included investment bank Lazards, one of the best vineyards in the world and Madame Tussauds. Next on the chopping board may be the Financial Times itself. Certainly Fallon did nothing to reassure anxious hacks on the subject. When pressed on whether his appointment makes it more likely that Pearson will seek to dispose of the FT Group, he merely replied: “I very much recognise and value the FT as a valuable part of the company.” I’ll take that as a yes then, particularly from a former PR man.

But what’s bad news for the FT may be very good news for Minick-Scokalo’s career prospects. She seems in prime position to claim Fallon’s former hot seat. Let’s put it this way: if she doesn’t get the job, she will be disappointed enough to leave Pearson’s employ.

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About Stuart Smith

Stuart Smith is one of the most incisive and knowledgeable commentators on global marketing. He was a long-time editor of Marketing Week during the period when it was the UK's leading marketing, media and advertising specialist publication. Visit Stuart Smith Blog.
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