- Ian Leggett shares his experiences managing publications inside the changing landscape of the publishing industry.
- The internet changed the publishing landscape forever and Ian Leggett was there to manage the digital disruption.
- Buy skills that are needed for your core business to operate to improve deficiencies.
By Tim Dean.
Dennis Publishing Group was established in 1973 by the counter-cultural icon Felix Dennis following the closure of the controversial underground magazine Oz.
Dennis capitalised on the growth in personal computing in the 1970s, publishing a slew of computer magazines. He soon added the wildly successful Maxim, Stuff, Viz and The Week to his stable to build a business with a group turnover in excess of £130m a year.
Ian Leggett FCA was the group finance director and chairman of Dennis Publishing UK. In September last year, Leggett stepped down to pursue his responsibilities as executor of the estate of Felix Dennis and as a trustee of The Heart of England Forest charity.
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“We were the first wave of baby boomers. We had our summer of love. We had lived in squats and communes. We had rolled around in festival mud wallowing to live sets from Hendrix and Dylan... now it was time to make some money,” he says.
The internet fundamentally changed the publishing landscape, he says.
“Print provided its own challenges,” says Leggett. “But digital is different as it is consumed on an as-required basis. No longer can media companies dictate when a reader is allowed to consume it. It’s there on a ‘now’ basis and it’s free.”
"Buy advice in the areas where you are deficient. But only buy what you need. Advisers try to sell you all the skills they have, of which only a few are what you want.”
Leggett’s response was not to abandon print, but to focus on what it does best. “You need to carry on doing many of the things you used to do, but do them better, and use the changes in technology to do them more efficiently.”
Leggett says that one of the things he learnt from Dennis was to be honest about where you have expertise, and where you haven’t.
“Felix was very smart, but he wasn’t a genius,” he says. “What he recognised is stick to what you know, and recognise what you don’t know. Buy advice in the areas where you are deficient. But only buy what you need. Advisers try to sell you all the skills they have, of which only a few are what you want.”
He also learnt to incorporate the experience of others.
“I particularly learnt from Felix that if there is a problem, then someone else, somewhere, is also no doubt facing it, and may already have the answer.
“Felix developed relationships with his competition. He wined and dined, enjoyed the company of others and his blotting paper mind would store the evidence that he would later apply to his own businesses.”
Experience of a CA
While Dennis was a spirited entrepreneur, he also valued the experience and steady hand of a chartered accountant, Leggett says.
“Felix hired or sought advisers who complemented his own skills. Entrepreneurs act on the spur of the moment. And in a chartered accountant finance director, he wanted to be assured that by implementing his dictate, he was not left vulnerable.”
But experience across many fields has also served Leggett well in his work with Dennis Publishing.
“My knowledge of accounting, law and human qualities will not win the game on their own. They might get me on the field at the start of the game. But it is the knowledge that comes from keeping your eyes open and learning from others that will ultimately win the game.”
Tim Dean is a freelance writer.
This article first appeared in the June/July 2017 issue of Acuity magazine.