Annette Thomas has been appointed to head the Guardian Media Group, replacing former advertising executive David Pemsel, who drove an aggressive turnaround strategy in recent years. She is set to take the new position in March this year, with Chief customer officer Anna Bateson, an ex-Googler, continuing as interim CEO in the meanwhile. 

Thomas comes from an academic background and has a BA from Harvard University in biochemistry and biophysics and a PhD from Yale University in cell biology and neuroscience

She previously led the Web Science Group – an analytics and software company – in 2019. Prior to this Thomas notably worked at New York Publishing house Macmillan, moving from editor at the International Journal of Science to chief executive of Macmillan Science and Nature, later overseeing its merger with German publisher Springer. 

The media group delivered an operating profit in 2019 – after two decades of substantial losses. While the membership/ donation based model has been seen by many as hailing a turning point for global media, GMG’s path to profitability has been largely driven by cost-cutting. 

Cutting jobs, shrinking the paper and axing investment plans cut costs by around 20%. There is now significantly less fat to trim, meaning driving reader revenue will likely play a key role. The Guardian currently aims to double its roughly 1 million paying members by 2022. In 2019 these accounted for over £62 million or 28% of total GMG revenue, up from 18% in 2015-2016.

The Guardian and related media are largely financed by returns from its owner, the Scott Trust Limited endowment fund, which transfers profits to fund journalism each year. Before the recent turnaround, the media group had burnt an unsustainable amount of cash.

The upshot

The recent turnaround bodes well for Thomas as she takes the reins of GMG. With less ability to cut costs, however, she will need to keep the pressure high to boost income from donations and continue to diversify revenues.