Business

Roger Corbett new Fairfax chairman

Roger Corbett will take over as chairman of Fairfax Media after the company's board voted unanimously to install him following Ron Walker's decision to stand down.

Mr Walker, who became chairman at Fairfax in 2005, said he was pleased the succession had been settled. He will stand down on October 30, according to a statement by the company following a meeting of the Fairfax board in New Zealand.

Fairfax Media shares touched an 11-month high, rising as much as 4.5 cents, or 2.7 per cent, to $1.745.

Mr Corbett, 67, is a former chief executive at Woolworths, has been on the Fairfax board since February 2003 and is deputy chairman of the media company. He is also a member of the board of the Reserve Bank.

Mr Walker announced late last month he would leave the post after a spat with the Fairfax family, in particular John B. Fairfax, became public. Until that point, he had been expected to stay in the position until late 2010.

Mr Walker's announcement sparked weeks of speculation about succession plans. It had been expected that Mr Corbett, who became Mr Walker's deputy in August, would take over the top job.

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Challenges ahead

Mr Corbett acknowledged Mr Walker's contribution as chairman and noted the challenges he would face in the role.

''Fairfax, like most companies, has challenges ahead but the decisions taken in the last few years by management and the board have, I believe, put Fairfax in a position which is envied by media companies around the world," Mr Corbett said in the statement.

"This is a company of real importance to our national culture and democracy and I am honoured by this opportunity."

No deputy chairman was appointed to replace Mr Corbett.

Fairfax Media is the publisher of this website as well as The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian Financial Review among other publications.

At a recent company meeting, Mr Fairfax's company, Marinya Media, said it would not support Mr Walker's re-election. Mr Fairfax also rejected plans to install Mr Corbett as chairman.

In late September, Marinya Media, the vehicle through which Mr Fairfax and his son Nicholas hold 9.7 per cent of Fairfax Media, said the company should look externally to find a replacement for Mr Walker.

Marinya said board renewal was needed after "years of under-performance", as well as unacceptable risk through debt-funded acquisitions.

But Mr Walker said it was a ploy by the Fairfax family to get control of the company without paying a premium to other shareholders. The independent directors would act responsibly in the interest of all shareholders to prevent that, Mr Walker said last month.

Mr Fairfax denied he wanted to be chairman of Fairfax Media.

Fairfax Media lost $380 million last year and cut more than 1000 staff members as the newspaper industry suffered the worst downturn in decades.

BusinessDay, with stuff.co.nz

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