Stephen Grabiner exit puts pressure on Guardian and EMAP

Stephen Grabiner, boss of private equity giant Apax Partners’ media operations, is leaving the company in the wake of his last big deal, buying publisher EMAP with Guardian Media Group, going pear-shaped.

Apax and GMG coughed up around £1bn for EMAP, which publishes a large number of magazines and whose exhibitions business owns the Cannes Golden Lions ad awards, three years ago.

But Apax has already written down its stake to nothing, even though EMAP is still trading, while Guardian owner GMG has written off about half.

The other architect of the deal GMG CEO Carolyn McCall has already announced her departure to Easyjet. GMG is currently looking for a new CEO who will have some tough decisions to make on a number of issues of which EMAP is obviously one.

Grabiner is a former boss of ONdigital, which became the ill-fated ITV Digital, and the Daily Telegraph.

The trouble with the EMAP deal was simply over-paying, the business has since struggled under its pile of debt with the owners needing to put in new capital that they don’t really have.

As for the Guardian it was seeking to replicate the huge success it achieved when it bought Auto Trader, the used cars publication.

It subsequently sold half of this to Apax, netting around £650m, which has kept the Guardian afloat and funded its expansion, so far unprofitable, into digital through its huge website. It also bought the Observer.

EMAP has not proved such a bargain even though the Golden Lions will have been raking in the money from agencies and other for the awards which begin this week.

GMG is ultimately owned by charity the Scott Trust named after the old Manchester Guardian’s legendary editor CP Scott.

GMG and the trust, and people at EMAP too, will be hoping that Grabiner’s departure doesn’t mean that Apax is going to cut off the supply of funds to the struggling publisher.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.