CEO Roundtable: Grant Blackley

Grant Blackley is set to take the reins of Southern Cross Austereo later this month as their new CEO and Managing Director.

His media career spans some 30 years, including CEO of Network Ten.

In part one of our CEO Roundtable with Grant, we will talk about how he balances people’s fears of change, while at the same time getting them inspired about the future. We talk about what he looks for in the people he works with and what issues he is going tackle first with SCA.

Blair Sullivan: Is it going to be nice to be back in media?

Grant Blackley: Very much so, I feel like I’ve never left. After 30 years within the industry, 24 of those with Network Ten, it’s very clear I’ve got a very long and passionate association with media. And certainly in the last five years since I left Ten I have actually kept very close to it with a range of things, through some consultancy work I’ve done for media companies.

I’ve looked at all the media assets and furthermore I’ve held an interest in a talent agency where we look after about 300 actors, writers, directors, presenters, bloggers etc.

So I’ve never been far from the industry but I am certainly forward to moving back into the industry more directly with SCA.


Blair: SCA has a long history of the same faces running the show for a couple of decades…  In terms of CEO’s you would probably be the first one from outside.

Grant Blackley: I might well be, I’ve never looked into that. I am sure everyone has come from outside at some point in time but never the less, yes in the most immediate future I would say that is probably true. Although understanding that Michael Miller, who just took up APN obviously came from the newspaper sector, so I am sure he has broken that ground before I did.


Blair: People working at SCA might be wondering … “How will your appointment affect me?”  How do you balance people’s fear of change and at the same time get them inspired about the future?

Grant Blackley: You do that in a very cohesive manner. A lot of this is about communication and in business I’ve always worked first and foremost to ensure all stakeholders are aware of what your intentions are.

You need to brief them very directly in terms of the performance of the company, the status of the company, the opportunities that might be present and the implications of each of those.

That, certainly over time, will be the path I will be adopting in this particular case as well. First and foremost I will be sitting down with the board and simultaneously I will be sitting down with all the SCA executives. Certainly (I’ll be) talking to the talent and other stakeholders  and that would include both agencies and advertisers.

If you do all of that, you get a very good rounded picture of the opportunities, the expectations and the challenges that the company and the industry have. I will be doing that in parallel, and I will be doing that very quickly.

I think that will give me a very good understanding as to where we sit and I will be communicating as much of that back to the people within SCA at an executive level as well as right through the company.

Because at the end of the day, I think we have got a very good group of committed, passionate and experienced people within SCA, what we need to do is refine a strategy that will improve the assets, improve the value of the assets moving forth and actually further promote and stabilise the company.

So it will be very much hands on deck at the end of this month, and a very clear and quick process you might say in terms of that evaluation.


Blair: You have a history of developing management talent, what are some of key attributes you look for in people?

Grant Blackley: What I look for is people who have a very committed and passionate attitude. People who have a level of experience that naturally caters towards the role that you are looking for.

What I like to see is the diversification of the talent within an organisation. There is no one single profile that anyone seeks, they are all very different roles but what I do see as critical to the business is the ability of those executives to work with and around their peers, have a very open and honest dialogue with their own people, certainly with their peers and more broadly with the board and myself.

And if that is the case, you end up with a very cohesive group of executives that are very clear on the issues that confront the company, the opportunities that are every present within it and how we can exploit those on a collective basis. So all of that is very important to me.


Blair: You have some very big talent names in SCA and as with any media business some big egos as well, do you enjoy dealing with people like that – people who are that upfront?

Grant Blackley: I’ve spent 24 years at Network Ten and we have had a range of people who are highly talented and highly passionate. With my direct involvement with the talent agency in managing talent, there is no question that what we have got is highly talented and passionate people, some might call it egos. I think there is nothing wrong with any of that.

It is about harnessing all of that talent and ability and heading down a path that is fruitful for the company, for the individuals and for the strategy that you employ.

So I think there needs to be a very healthy dose of passion and commitment and without it unfortunately I don’t think you will get the best out of the company.


Blair: Safe to say SCA has encountered a few hurdles in recent years, we won’t get into those but what are the Top 3 issues you want to tackle straight up?

Grant: In terms of the top three issues, certainly I wouldn’t see it as prioritising any particular issue. As I said before it’s about understanding the critical opinions and aspects that the board, the broader stakeholders in the market, our advertisers and agencies. And most importantly our customers and they can either be listeners or viewers of our different assets.

What’s critical is getting a very good understanding of all of those collective opinions, seeing what those opinions may bring forth and I am not going to sit here and say I know what that is at this point in time. I’ve certainly got my own views but I am certainly very keen to understand the broader opinions of the market.  

So once that is done I think what will become evident is that that there will be certain areas will need attention sooner rather than later. In parallel to that there are certainly some interesting and critical strategic issues. And that is ensuring that we have a long term (television) affiliate agreement in our broadcast world that will actually provide the comfort and opportunity through the company. And there is looking at the radio assets to ensure that each daypart that we compete in, and that is every one, is as strong as it can possibly be.

It’s about settling down all of the staff, talent and external stakeholders, communicating that we have a plan, we are going to execute that plan in a timely manner and it is going to be a plan that we believe that will improve the company and be fruitful for the company moving forth.



In Part Two in the of our CEO Roundtable with Grant Blackley later this week, we will ask what SCA will look like in three years’ time, what is the biggest issue facing radio and would happen if Cross Media laws changed.


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