Media Fortune Fame & Folly

Kevin Hand: a UK leader in the heyday of magazines

Kevin Hand, a controversial and influential leader in the UK magazine market for almost 30 years, has died in London after a short illness. He was aged 64.

He began his media career as a graduate trainee at the former Link House which published enthusiast magazines on cars, boats, wine and caravans. In 1983, he joined EMAP, the larger and livelier east of England publisher built from regional newspapers and magazines on motorbikes, photography, cars, fishing and gardening. It had started to accelerate with the ground-breaking 1978 launch of the million-selling fortnightly Smash Hits. EMAP had crashed the big league of UK magazine publishers.

After five years as circulation director, Kevin became chief executive of EMAP’s consumer magazines. For the booming company, they were very special times. In less than 10 years, he doubled the portfolio to 100 magazines and more than trebled operating profits to £65m as he raced to catch IPC, the long-time market leader.

The performance was turbo-charged by best-selling magazine launches in the young women’s, music and entertainment sectors, including Empire, Mojo, More, Bliss, Just 17, and the pre-Twitter celebrity behemoth Heat. The 1994 acquisition of FHM became a million-seller and worldwide leader in a hot decade for young men’s magazines. That was also the year Kevin moved to Paris where he successfully turned a mixed bag of acquired, mostly loss-making magazines into strong profits. EMAP and its magazines boss were firing on all cylinders.

His reward – four years later – was appointment as CEO of the EMAP Plc parent. The UK’s hottest media company was valued at £1bn and growing strongly across magazines, radio, business information and exhibitions.

Determined to succeed

Kevin Hand had thrived on self-confessed impatience, tenacity and the kind of can-do determination which propelled his move to France even before he had learned the language. But within a year, he had become fluent and – of course – a passionate francophile as well.

Barry McIlheney, chief executive of the revitalised UK Professional Publishers Association (PPA) and a former EMAP senior executive, neatly sums up his former boss: “What mattered was that you went at it with a ferocious passion and a violent energy, and that you always led the troops from the front. And, above all else, that you won.”

Hand’s early achievements had been in the shadow of Robin Miller and David Arculus who together had built EMAP’s culture and success over two decades. Now, he alone was in the spotlight of investors who had been spoiled by 20 years of extraordinary corporate growth. Notoriously fickle stockmarket analysts expected a lot and the new CEO was determined not to disappoint. He knew the high-flying UK company needed to expand internationally – in order to sustain its growth record – and he threw himself into the huge strategic task with trademark determination.

Within six months of becoming CEO, he announced EMAP’s largest-ever acquisition – in the United States. In December 1998, he

Golden days at EMAP
Golden days at UK’s hottest media company

paid $1.2bn for the newly-floated Petersen, publisher of Guns & Ammo, Motor Trend, Sports & Hot Rod, and 100 other hobby magazines, declaring: “This is a deal that EMAP has dreamed of doing. Together, we want to become the biggest specialist publisher in the world. Our plans are as simple as that. In the fullness of time, say in three years or four years, Petersen could contribute up to 50% or more of EMAP’s profits – it’s that big a deal.”

But the deal proved to be a move too far and too fast for the company and its tenacious CEO. After three years of disappointing revenues, accounting surprises and unexpected trading losses at Petersen, Kevin quit his 18-year EMAP career. Subsequently, the US magazines were sold for 50% of what he had paid for them. Six years later, with digital rivals shaking its foundations, the legendary UK company was broken up and sold. End of story.

Passionate ambassador

He moved on to become chairman of: Hachette Filipacchi UK, Dods business information, and (for a second time) what is now the Professional Publishers Association. He also became vice-president of the European Magazine Media Association, and a director of IPSO, the UK’s post-hacking media watchdog. He channelled his passion for magazines and became an energetic and highly-effective ambassador for publishers when they needed it most.

He was a life-long – and, of course, passionate – supporter of his home-town football club Leicester City which is now just weeks away from becoming unlikely first-time champion of the English Premier League.

Kevin will be remembered as a distinctive leader of UK magazines during 30 years of success. It’s all different now.

Kevin Hand, 64, died on 7 April 2016. RIP.

In Memoriam from PPA

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