Rona Fairhead will step down as head of Pearson's Financial Times unit and and leave the company's board in April next year, the company said today, in a move that will further fan speculation that Pearson may sell the newspaper.
The London-based company didn't give a reason for Ms. Fairhead's departure in an e-mailed statement apart from saying that the executive is "ready to tackle a new set of challenges." Investec Securities analyst Steve Liechti said last month that Ms. Fairhead may leave the company because she didn't get the top job when Chief Executive Officer Marjorie Scardino announced her departure the same month.
Pearson is emphasizing its education business as new CEO John Fallon prepares to take the reins from Ms. Scardino, who retires in January. The company wouldn't rule out a sale of the Financial Times as Chief Financial Officer Robin Freestone this month told investors that the company may eventually re-examine its ownership of the newspaper.
A Pearson spokesman said Ms. Fairhead's decision to leave was "completely unrelated" to the ownership of the Financial Times. Mr. Fallon , who takes over from Scardino Jan. 1, visited the Financial Times' offices last week and said the newspaper was not for sale, according to the spokesman.
Ms. Fairhead has led the Financial Times Group since 2002.
The newspaper that was first printed on pink paper in 1893 and was bought by Pearson in 1957 employs more than 600 journalists and has combined paid print and digital circulation of about 600,000.
The company has been working to increase digital subscriptions to compensate for a decline in print sales. The FT Group reported revenue that rose 6.4%to 216 million pounds ($347 million) in the first half. Adjusted operating profit grew 4.8% to 22 million pounds. The group accounts for about 8% of the company's revenue and 12% of its profit.
But the company has been increasingly focusing on expanding its education and professional businesses, including through acquisitions. Its North American education division contributed more than half of Pearson's operating income last year, up 19% to 493 million pounds.