>C’est tellement curieux. The magazine publishing business is puzzled by the decision to appoint an unknown Frenchman, Arnaud de Puyfontaine, as the new UK chief executive of the National Magazine Company. Not the least reason for their confusion was a widespread perception that the present incumbent, Duncan Edwards – now moving upstairs to president and chief executive of Hearst Magazines International – had been grooming his managing director Jessica Burley to take over.
>Why NatMags prefers French dressing
Edwards and Burley were – managerially speaking – soul mates, sharing among other things a passion for spreadsheet analysis. That may reek of dullness, but it seemed to work for NatMags, so why look overseas for an alternative?
Well, there’s no doubt that M. de Puyfontaine brings with him a genuine exoticism. Born in 1964, he’s a graduate of the école supérieure de commerce, so very much a part of the French intellectual and business elite. Over the years he has, in typical haute école manner, put high-level contacts to good use in leveraging his way up the French establishment. He started as a journalist on Le Figaro, but soon spotted the superior attractions of magazine publishing.
The British connection-in-waiting was Emap, or rather its French subsidiary, where he launched Emap Star and in July 1998 took over as chief executive from Kevin Hand – who at that point had been called back to London to be group ceo. When in 2006 a seriously weakened Emap was compelled to relinquish its French subsidiary, it was de Puyfontaine who handled the negotiations. The upshot was Emap France became a subsidiary of Mondadori, the Italian publishing house, but only after de Puyfontaine had parlayed his way onto the Mondadori board, as chief executive of the group’s digital activities. But then, mid last year, he mysteriously quit – settling instead for “senior advisor” to the head of Mondadori France.
The role of consigliere obviously becomes him, because in next to no time he was also head of a special committee looking into the future of the French newspaper industry, appointed on the personal say-so of the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy. It was the pay-off for a carefully cultivated friendship which dated back to the eighties when Sarkozy was the relatively unknown mayor of Neuilly. Never underestimate “le piston”.
So, the question people are asking is why has such a big fish in France settled for such a small pond here in the UK? Yes, all right: he will be in charge of such national treasures as Good Housekeeping, Cosmo, Harper’s Bazaar and, er, Men’s Health. Even so, it looks suspiciously as if there’s another shoe waiting to drop. Perhaps NatMags’ head of Europe in due course?