A Titanic struggle ahead?

The exodus of senior management from Titan Outdoor, which continued last week with the news that joint-managing director Alison Reay is leaving after just 14 months, has been blamed by many on the problems inherited from Maiden, the loss-making rival Titan bought in a £50m deal last year.

Reay, a former Yahoo! UK commercial director, was appointed in March 2006, along with former Viacom (now CBS) sales director Andy Moug, with a brief to turn the company around. Reay, who is leaving without a job to go to, claims she has achieved that goal by finally making a profit and is now ready to “face the challenges ahead in the knowledge it is in a stronger position than ever”.

Her exit follows the departure of sales director Steve Atkinson, development director Helen Bouchez and head of research Anthony Waithe. It also comes in the wake of seven new senior appointments, including Titan Ireland’s deputy managing director Stephen Dunn as sales director and The Guardian’s David Etherington as marketing director.

The Maiden acquisition
Titan Worldwide bought struggling Maiden in April last year in a deal that saw it pay £10.6m for the company’s shares and acquire £36m of debt, as well as inherit Maiden’s key Network Rail account. The company claims its UK subsidiary has since experienced “double digit growth” year on year.

Jon Slatkin, chief executive of Titan UK, concedes his team is very different to the one he acquired on his arrival six months ago. He says: “We have brought in 130 new staff in the past year and we are meeting our objectives. In fact, we are on much firmer footing than we have been in the past and I can see us continuing to expand and win new contracts.” He confirmed that Reay will not be directly replaced and says her duties will be distributed between colleagues.

Others, however, are not so optimistic about Titan’s future. One industry insider questions the decision to take on all of Maiden’s debts and contractual agreements, especially as the company is operating in an increasingly competitive market. Titan’s competitors include multinational players such as French-owned JC Decaux and American-run Clear Channel and CBS, all of which can afford to invest large sums of money into their businesses.

Clear Channel sales director Rob Atkinson believes that the acquisition of the ailing Maiden by the US company has served to revive the outdoor market. “Healthy competition is imperative to sustain growth and development within any industry including this one so it was great that Maiden was bought out,” he says.

Can Titan turn it around?
But not everyone believes it was such good news for Titan. Sources claim it is making a loss on the Network Rail contract and say it will have to undertake a major review of its contractual obligations to truly achieve a turnaround.

Slatkin, though, is convinced that Titan is on the path to success. He adds: “We are continually trying to grow and we expect to update the market soon on significant positive developments for the company.” 

Kinetic chief executive Paul Shearing believes Reay did a good job when it came to handling internal restructures but thinks the company now needs to adopt a more outward and forward-looking approach. He says: “When Titan took over Maiden, like any other business acquisition, there was an unsettling period when it encountered internal problems. But the products Titan inherited are fairly strong and it should now go out and talk to more people about what it can offer.” 

He adds that it has been a difficult time for Titan in the tough outdoor market but believes the much-talked about turnaround is only in its early stages: “Internally it has put in place new foundation blocks but the next six months will tell how successful they will be. I think its recovery will be long term rather than short term.” 

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