Mike Soutar, who left his post as IPC group editorial director last week, would prefer to be remembered as the stuff that legends are made of, say his friends and critics. After savouring the huge success of driving through high-profile launches â including the UK’s first weekly men’s title Nuts and celebrity-led Pick Me Up â he now appears to be lining up a role in a publishing start-up.
Soutar’s abrupt exit set tongues wagging around the media community. As a man who was always seen as the affable public face of the monolithic publishing house, his departure has triggered a spate of conspiracy theories.
The short and seemingly terse statement issued by IPC on his departure has done nothing to stall the rumour mill. Some observers believe Soutar fell out with IPC chief executive Sylvia Auton over her refusal to sanction money for a “major” new launch.
The IPC statement reads: “After six years with the company, group editorial director Mike Soutar has decided it is time to leave. In accordance with the terms of his contract, Mike is stepping down from the board and taking [six months’] gardening leave with immediate effect.”
Jumped or pushed
One insider claims that it was Soutar’s decision to “move forward” and that there has been no falling out with either Time Inc (IPC’s parent company) or Auton. However, the unexpected departure of such a high-profile executive has surprised observers inside and outside the company.
One observer says: “There was no sense that this was on the cards, which indicates that he must have had some massive row with the management.”
However, another critic believes Soutar is not indispensable and adds: “He has been very clever shouting about Nuts and Pick Me Up, both of which have been very successful, and a team effort. But he has failed to take ownership of the not-so-successful TV Easy, which he also helped to launch.”
It is thought that the media-savvy Soutar already had plans in place to launch a new publishing venture, and he is understood to have had his lawyers stipulate to IPC that no more is said about his departure.
One observer says that with his “creative journalistic skills” he is more than likely to succeed in launching something new for the market.
Another adds: “He was considered a coup when he was appointed by IPC and proved his prowess with the launch of Nuts and Pick Me Up. Soutar should be able to recreate that same level of success.”
From being the youngest editor of Smash Hits in 1991, at the age of 24, Soutar has seldom been short of acclaim or admiration. Three years later, he became editor of lads’ mag FHM when the title was acquired by EMAP, and took the circulation from 50,000 to 500,000 in just over two years.
More than a decade later, as editor of the US version of Dennis Publishing’s Maxim, he doubled sales of the edition.
More success ahead
Soutar joined IPC in 2000 as managing director of IPC Music and Sport, which includes NME and Loaded, after being poached from the US by Sly Bailey, who was chief executive at the time.
That last move was only a year prior to Soutar’s involvement with a team assembled by broadcaster Chris Evans and PR specialist Matthew Freud that came close to buying the Daily Star, before backers pulled out.
Whatever Soutar’s plans for the future may be, once they are made public, they will be keenly monitored.
Nevertheless, it would be safe to assume that a media giant like IPC is not losing too much sleep over his departure.