The Financial Times / Nikkei Deal

Keynote address from Lionel Barber, Editor of the FT

Held on Thursday, October 8


  • Lionel Barber (FT)

  • Sir Stephen Gomersall (Hitachi)

  • Sir Geoffrey Owen (LSE)

  • Martin Dickson (formerly FT)

  • Bill Emmott (formerly The Economist)

  • Claudio Aspesi (Sanford Bernstein)


Jane Fuller, co-director of the CSFI, talks to Martin Dickson, former editor of the FT, and Claudio Aspesi, a senior analyst at Sanford Bernstein, about the implications of the FT / Nikkei deal.


You may have seen our previous invitation for a CSFI round-table discussion on the implications of the FT / Nikkei deal. We have changed the date, but for the best of reasons: Lionel Barber, editor of the FT, has kindly agreed to join us to shed light on the FT’s direction of travel under its new owner.

The issue is a bit outside our normal purview, but the recently announced deal – in which Japan’s largest media company, Nikkei, is to buy the FT for £844 million – has potential implications for the City. At one level, it is legitimate to ask whether it makes sense financially, given the continuing problems of print journalism and the digital disruption of news media. Is this a hard-nosed business deal, or was Nikkei looking primarily for an international ‘trophy asset’?

Either way, will Nikkei respect the FT’s editorial independence? After all, the concept means something very different in Tokyo and London. And will management in Tokyo be content to let the FT plough its own furrow – or will it want to micromanage what goes on at Southwark Bridge (or wherever the FT ends up)? It is also worth bearing in mind that Pearson also recently disposed of its 50% share in The Economist Group to the Agnellis – with the terms of that deal including explicit controls over editorial independence. These are important issues because the FT is one of the UK’s crown jewels – and a significant part of the institutional infrastructure that underpins the City and UK financial services more generally.

To discuss the deal and its implications, I am delighted that (in addition to Lionel himself) we have been able to put together a distinguished panel of insiders and outsiders:

  • Sir Geoffrey Owen and Martin Dickson are very much insiders. Sir Geoffrey joined the FT in 1958, where he held various posts before rising (after a stint in industry) to deputy editor (1973-1980) and then editor (1981-1990). Martin was US managing editor of the paper before retiring last year, and prior to that deputy editor, financial editor and writer of the Lombard column.
  • Sir Stephen Gomersall served as UK Ambassador to Japan between 1999 and 2004, the culmination of a more than three decade career at the FCO. He joined Hitachi as chief executive for Europe in 2004, before being appointed to his current role as group chairman for Europe in April 2011.
  • Bill Emmott was one of the most distinguished editors that The Economist ever had. During his 13-year tenure, the ‘newspaper’ expanded internationally, and its reputation grew exponentially. He is also a prolific author and film-maker – and three of his best-selling books attempt to explain Japan and its neighbourhood. They are The Sun also Sets (1989), Japan’s Global Reach (1992), and Rivals (2008).
  • Claudio Aspesi is a senior analyst at Sanford Bernstein here in London, where he covers European media stocks. Prior to joining Bernstein, he was a senior VP at EMI Music, and before that a principal at McKinsey.

In addition, of course, the CSFI has its own share of FT alumni – notably David Lascelles (ex-banking editor) and Jane Fuller (ex-financial editor). Each will have strong views. I am sure many of you will have your own views on this deal. If you would like to share them – or just hear what our panellists have to say – please let us know by emailing or by calling the office on 020 7621 1056. As usual, wine and sandwiches will be provided. (Green eye-shades are optional.)

Sincerely yours,

Andrew Hilton