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Thomson Reuters begins search for new chief executive

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Via Financial Times

Thomson Reuters has begun the search for a chief executive to succeed Jim Smith, who has led the $34bn professional information group since 2012. 

Four people with knowledge of the succession process said the Canadian company’s board had appointed Spencer Stuart, the search firm, to draw up a shortlist of internal and external candidates. The search was at an early stage, one said, with the handover unlikely to happen this year.

Two of those people said that Neil Masterson, the co-chief operating officer responsible for commercial and technology operations, was an internal contender. Mr Masterson is one of the few executives at the company who had worked for both Thomson Corporation and Reuters before the Canadian company’s $17bn takeover of the UK financial data group which formed Thomson Reuters in 2008. 

Mr Smith, 60, oversaw the sale of the finance and risk business formed from combining Reuters with the Toronto group’s Thomson Financial division. In a two-stage deal, it first sold a majority stake in the financial data business to a Blackstone-backed consortium for $17bn and then, this summer, it agreed the sale of the renamed Refinitiv to the London Stock Exchange for $27bn. 

The second of those transactions, which is due to close in the second half of 2020, will leave Thomson Reuters a substantial shareholder in the LSE, but it has said that it plans to sell down its stake within five years. That will leave the US-focused Westlaw legal information business as its largest operation, alongside tools for tax, accounting and compliance professionals. 

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The Refinitiv-LSE deal, in which Mr Masterson was closely involved, unleashed a flurry of interest in the Reuters News business, several people told the Financial Times, but Mr Smith and the Thomson family members whose voting rights control the company have told would-be buyers it is not for sale. 

Mr Smith, a former Thomson Newspapers journalist who was put in charge of the group’s professional information services after the Reuters deal, came in at a low ebb in January 2012 amid dissatisfaction with the take-up of the new financial data products with which Thomson Reuters hoped to compete with Bloomberg. 

He began by accelerating cost-cutting plans, but top-line growth has picked up more recently. In August, the company reported that new products had helped organic growth in its core business accelerate to 4 per cent in the second quarter, marking its strongest rate for more than a decade. 

Mr Smith was hospitalised in 2018 after experiencing what the company described as “an arrhythmia incident”.

Thomson Reuters shares have more than doubled since his appointment. 

David Thomson, Thomson Reuters chairman, said: “The board is fully supportive of Jim Smith and his management team. We are aligned on strategy and direction. And, we are working closely with management to achieve continued success for years to come.”

The company added: “The board of directors considers succession planning and benchmarking for all key executives a matter of good governance. Hence, the board and management continuously assess internal candidates and work with search firms to scan the external market.”

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