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Taking stock

Two and a half years since Thomson completed its acquisition of Reuters is not a natural waypoint at which to take stock. Yet there is good reason to pause for breath at this time and reflect on what has been achieved thus far. The pace of change since the takeover in April 2008 has been remarkable. There is much to report.

The combined company has invested $1 billion overhauling its product portfolio for financial professionals. Of these developments, the big three are:

  • Insider, an interactive on-demand video platform described as “YouTube for traders”, run from dedicated studios on three continents and available on multiple platforms from smart phones to tablet computers to desktops.
  • Elektron, an ultra-high speed market data distribution network that uses fibre optics to replace clients’ individual technology links with multiple exchanges, trading platforms and vendors of trading services.
  • Eikon, an “intelligent information” platform with web-style navigation and social networking aimed at the new generation of financial professionals distinguished by their familiarity with technology, insatiable demand for many sources of real-time information and an approach that transcends social, geographic or language barriers. Chief executive Tom Glocer calls Eikon, three years in the making, “a real game-changer” and “one hot platform”. Early sales results confirm the company has another winner on its hands, he says.

Other highlights of recent months include continuing improvement in net sales and large transformation projects, not least the integration of Reuters, performing to plan. All in all, Thomson Reuters is motoring ahead, Glocer said this week in a message to the group’s 55,000 employees.

“In the coming quarter there's much to be done to realize the full potential of this year of achievement and prepare for 2011,” he said. “Building on the strongest roster of products we have ever had, I have no doubt we will succeed.”

In the news agency, multi-media packages combining text, pictures, graphics and video have won awards, and innovative formats for popular new platforms like the iPad have been designed and launched to acclaim.

The reporting staff is up to around 3,000 from 2,400 at the time of the takeover, and the journalistic culture is itself changing. Editorial has moved aggressively to leave behind the days of the anonymous agency by hiring a galaxy of stars to produce commentary. High-profile journalists are encouraged to present the public face of Reuters as pundits on US television business and current affairs shows.

Editorial chiefs believe Reuters' traditional fact-based news coverage is enhanced by commentary. Columns by recognised experts are now a regular feature of the file

The acquisition of Breakingviews, a leading provider of online financial insight, is part of a drive to make Reuters the global leader in point-of-view journalism for financial markets and the indispensable news service for the 21st century.

Editorial chiefs believe Reuters’ traditional fact-based news coverage is enhanced by commentary. Columns by recognised experts are now a regular feature of the file. Instant feedback from readers, facilitated by social networks like Facebook and Twitter as well as directly from the website, is solicited.

Business Insider, a US website that follows Thomson Reuters, reported the hiring of big-name writers somewhat sniffily: “Reuters was never the type of media outlet that well-known journalists with prestigious newspaper and magazine credentials were clamoring to work for. But that seems to be changing.”

It is going after top editorial talent “as a way to change up its DNA and build a bigger audience. And top editorial talent is taking the bait… In the past month alone, Reuters has added four marquee names to its growing roster, and sources within the company say more will be announced in the coming weeks. All in all, the recruitment spree is adding a new element to Reuters: recognizable names and faces.”

How it has all changed. David Schlesinger, editor-in-chief, recalls that “When I joined [as a correspondent in Hong Kong in 1987], my then area editor told me: ‘you have to learn to be anonymous’.” He adds: “I’m really pleased to be ripping up that part of the playbook.” Schlesinger told his 1,500 Twitter followers: “I'm proud of all my stars - old and new - but so happy the new are being recognized.”

Formerly, Reuters promoted from within and was accustomed to being “somewhat anonymous”, says Betty Wong, global managing editor. "We really want to transform our news organization and move away from the old mentality of thinking of it as a wire service." She adds: "In the end, we want the best people, whether internal or external. We're encouraging people to build their own brands. We want to be seen as thought leaders."

At the wider corporate level, the complex listing of shares on four equities markets in London, New York and Toronto, which gave rise to transatlantic value disparities, has been abandoned: the shares are now traded only on the New York and Toronto stock exchanges. The healthy relative performance of Thomson Reuters shares, powering to 52-week highs on both markets, has placed it at the top of a US ranking of leading publishing industry companies.

In a relatively short time period of less than three years the marriage of Thomson and Reuters has been shown to be a success. Can it last? Will it last?

The Thomson Reuters group is controlled by Canada’s wealthiest and most powerful media dynasty with a family fortune reckoned by Forbes at $19 billion. At its head is David Thomson, 3rd Baron Thomson of Fleet, chairman of the business.

A self-effacing, almost diffident art collector who shuns the spotlight and seldom leaves his hometown, Toronto, he deftly sidestepped the issue when the Financial Times caught up with him at a corporate event in London recently. Would the Thomson name remain twinned with that of Reuters, the FT enquired. Lord Thomson shrugged off the question, saying it was a matter for the next generation. That will be his only son, who is his designated heir as head of the family business. As the present chairman, the world’s 20th richest billionaire, is 53, it’s a matter that is unlikely to be raised again for some time.

The succession plan was drawn up by his grandfather, the media dynasty’s founder Roy Thomson, 1st Baron Thomson of Fleet, who ensured that the descendants of his son Kenneth, the late 2nd Baron Thomson of Fleet, would have to play their part in running the business.

"David, my grandson, will have to take his part in the running of the Organisation and David's son, too," he wrote in his 1975 autobiography. "With the fortune that we will leave to them go also responsibilities. These Thomson boys that come after Ken are not going to be able, even if they want to, to shrug off these responsibilities."

So, the group is charging ahead and the question of the Thomson-Reuters link, if it is asked again, will have to await the advent of the 4th Baron Thomson of Fleet. ■