In an internal memo last week, Hibu CEO Mike Pocock announced the termination of Yellowbook President Jim McCusker and Chief Publishing Officer Mark Cairns, citing conduct “that the company considered to be disloyal and against the interests of its employees and other stakeholders.” The memo did not offer any additional details, but Pocock did add that Hibu is contemplating further legal action against the two.
The Evening Standard’s Gideon Spanier reported this week that the firings occurred “amid speculation that they were plotting a buyout” of Yellowbook. A number of tenured Yellowbook executives have left in recent months, including Gary Shaw, the company’s longtime CTO.
Hibu, formerly Yell Group, operates directory and local search businesses in the UK, Spain, Latin America and the United States. All of the businesses are grappling with steep print declines as Hibu tries to find an effective strategy to transform the business from largely print to largely digital. Pocock came on board in 2011 with an ambitious agenda to change the business. In 2012, the company changed its name to Hibu.
Like many directory publishers worldwide, Hibu is struggling to transform itself while grappling with a large debt load. Last month the company said it was negotiating with lenders for another debt restructuring. Hibu’s debt totals roughly GBP 2 billion (US$3 billion), more than four times EBITDA for the 2012 financial year (GBP 461 million).
Recent financial results haven’t made things easier for Hibu. For the quarter ending Dec. 31 (Hibu’s financial year ends March 31), total group revenues declined by 14 percent. Customer loss has been one of Hibu’s most troubling metrics. During the same quarter, the company lost 20 percent of its print and 7 percent of its online directory customers, from the same period a year ago. The company has made up some ground in digital services (e.g., websites), which grew revenue at a 31 percent clip and added customers at a 10 percent pace. Digital directory revenues, which remain the larger digital revenue component (60 percent), declined by 7 percent.
It may take a while to assess the fallout from the departure of McCusker and Cairns. Both were widely seen as popular figures within the Yellowbook culture, and provided a link to the company’s past leader, Joe Walsh, who left less than six months after Pocock took over. Bob Gregerson, who is currently CEO of Hibu US and the group’s chief commercial officer, will assume all of McCusker’s duties. All those who reported to Cairns will now report to COO Mike Payne.