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Thomson Reuters close to naming new CEO - Reuters

Thomson Reuters is close to naming former Nielsen president Steve Hasker (photo) as its next chief executive, succeeding James Smith, Reuters reported.

A source said the appointment of Hasker, a senior adviser at private equity firm TPG and former McKinsey media consultant, could be announced as soon as Tuesday when Thomson Reuters reports its 2019 and fourth-quarter results.


Two sources cautioned that his appointment had not been finalised and the timing of an announcement could be slightly delayed, Reuters reported. Hasker, 50, did not respond to requests for comment.


Thomson Reuters said in a statement no decision had been taken by the board yet, but the company will provide an update on the search process when it announces results.


After Reuters published the story Smith, 60, reiterated that no decision had been made by the board on new leadership. “This is part of our normal course succession planning and I am actively involved in the process,” Smith said in a memo to employees. “When the time comes to hand over the reins, you will hear it from me.”


The appointment of a new CEO will mark a turning point for Thomson Reuters, which is majority-owned by Canada’s Thomson family, Reuters reported. Two sources familiar with the matter said the board wanted to recruit an executive who could chart a long-term growth strategy for the company.


In recent years under Smith, Thomson Reuters had cut costs and shed some businesses as it recovered from the fallout of the financial crisis in 2008.


In a transformative deal, Smith engineered the sale of a 55 per cent stake in the company’s financial division in 2018 to private equity investors led by Blackstone that valued the business at $20 billion. Since then, Thomson Reuters’ share price has more than doubled. Blackstone subsequently struck a deal to sell the unit, now called Refinitiv, to the London Stock Exchange.


Hasker is expected to prevail in the CEO search process over other internal and external candidates, including Thomson Reuters co-chief operating officer Neil Masterson, one of the sources said.


In focusing on Hasker, the board of Thomson Reuters considered his experience at Nielsen, best known for TV ratings, in running businesses that collect and analyse data, two sources familiar with the matter said.


Hasker has been a media industry insider for more than two decades. Between 1998 and 2009, he was a media consultant at McKinsey, followed by Nielsen where he rose to become president and chief operating officer.

After Nielsen, Hasker went to Hollywood talent agency Creative Artists Agency, where he served as a top executive.


Hasker’s appointment would conclude a succession planning process that began at least as far back as January 2019, when Thomson Reuters was interviewing executive search firms, according to two sources familiar with the matter.


Last October, in response to a report in the Financial Times, the company confirmed it was engaged in succession planning for Smith as “a matter of good governance.” In a memo to employees at the time, Smith said he was “not planning to go anywhere soon”.


Smith began his career as a reporter and editor at a weekly newspaper in his home town of Carlisle, Kentucky, and joined the Thomson organisation in 1987 when it bought a West Virginia daily where Smith was managing editor.

He rose through Thomson’s ranks to run its North American newspaper business, before the company divested it in 2000. He later led the company’s professional businesses. Smith became CEO in 2012. ■