CEO lunch with Ray Wardrop

27/03/2017 - 12:38

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Business News sat down to lunch at Julio’s with the experienced media executive, Ray Wardrop, managing director of Channel Nine Perth.

Channel Nine Perth managing director Ray Wardrop. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Business News sat down to lunch at Julio’s with the experienced media executive, Ray Wardrop, managing director of Channel Nine Perth.

Ray Wardrop’s story is one of hard work and street-smarts, with a successful career at The West Australian, Channel Seven and Austereo leading to his current role as managing director of Channel Nine Perth.

Early life wasn’t without its challenges for the Armadale-born Mr Wardrop, whose carpenter father passed away aged 28 when his son was just four. The subsequent years could have provided the inspiration for The Brady Bunch, Mr Wardrop says, as his mother married again and his stepfather brought his own children to the family.

The blended family-Brady Bunch theme was revisited many years later at a 20-year school reunion, at which Mr Wardrop met his future wife, Karen, who also had children from a first marriage, as did he.

Street selling

His first foray into media and marketing came, aged 14, when he was selling the Sunday Independent on a street corner in Perth. In those days, every street corner had newspaper sellers.

“I was on the corner of Hay and Barrack streets.” Mr Wardrop told Business News. “And there was this other kid selling The Sunday Times at the same corner. So I pitched to him that we should swap 100 papers each, and each sell both, and square up at the end of the night. I thought it was crazy to have two sellers selling against each other.”

With a trolley in hand, Mr Wardrop walked through Northbridge, knocking on doors, offering both papers. He would bring home $20 in a night, including tips, his pockets bulging with coins.

“My step dad was a compositor at The West Australian, and earned $70 or $80 a week, so I was making more than his daily rate.”

Mr Wardrop left school at 17 and, although he had the grades, never went to university. He took a job at Bank of New South Wales (which later became Westpac).

Early on, he endeared himself to his manager, Wally Doyle.

“I got my tie stuck in the cheque-franking machine, and it was pulling me in,” Mr Wardrop said.

“I was trying to keep my head as people could see what was happening. I wouldn’t allow anyone to cut my tie off, as it was borrowed from my step dad.”

They dismantled the machine, and Mr Wardrop had red ink stamped all down his tie. He thought he would be in big trouble, but Mr Doyle told him that he’d never seen anything funnier in his 30 years in the banking business, and was impressed how Mr Wardrop had kept his composure.

“He told me to take the rest of the day off, and get my tie dry-cleaned,” Mr Wardrop told Business News.

“He took a shine to me, and started coaching me along.”

Along with the mentoring, or perhaps as a result of it, Mr Wardrop gradually was given more responsibility, and rose through the ranks.

After a few years, he had the itch to travel. This turned into a five-year trip around the world, including running an adventure tour company in New Zealand.

Right to the top

Back home and around the time of the America’s Cup defence in 1987, Mr Wardrop took the bold step to write directly to the then tourism minister, Pam Beggs.

“I said that I was working for this highly awarded and successful tourist business in New Zealand and now coming back to Perth. ‘Do you have any jobs for me?’” Mr Wardrop said.

“My plan was she would look at it and send it on to someone to sort out, and because this had come from the minister, they would contact me.”

The plan worked perfectly. The WA Tourism Industry Association requested a meeting and, before too long, Mr Wardrop took a job as the marketing manager for Adventure World.

During his time there, he sold some considerable sponsorship to The West Australian, with the relationship close enough that management at The West felt confident enough to offer him the position of promotions manager.

Into media

By the mid-1990s, Mr Wardrop was at Channel Seven in a marketing and promotions role, after which he left to set up his own consultancy, and then on to Austereo.

“Seven then asked me back again – I must the only person to have quit Seven twice – in a programming and marketing role, and then GM when Chris Wharton took over at The West,” Mr Wardrop said.

Once Seven West Media merged with The West, Mr Wardrop realised it was time to move on.

“My heart was not in it, with the TV and the newspaper merging, it was not where I wanted to be,” Mr Wardrop said.

“My wife and I own a successful women’s fashion business, Kings Park Fashions, so I had no pressing need to hold down a full-time job.”

Three years later, Channel Nine CEO David Gyngell phoned Mr Wardrop and asked him to take over the station in Western Australia and oversee its move to the CBD. While at The West Australian, he had long argued that the newspaper had to have some footprint in the city.

“I’m at Channel Nine because I love it, I don’t have to be,” Mr Wardrop said.

“Seven in Perth has enormous heritage. But we’re (Channel Nine) clearly the ones who are innovating and breaking new ground; just look at our new facilities in the heart of city and our on-air look as evidence of that.”

WA’s advertising market

Mr Wardrop concedes that the WA economy, particularly the advertising and media environment, has been very tough in Perth in recent years.

“Every media outlet has been suffering,” he said. “Some of the deals that were being done, by some of the media companies, tell you how hard it has been. However, there’s been a real up-tick in 2017.”

Mr Wardrop believes there has never been a more important time to have alternative, independent news content in the state.

“Not many years ago there were three commercial TV stations, and several newspapers all competing for stories,” he said.

“But now there is a concentration of media ownership in WA, a reduction of competitive forces, so we sometimes have stories not being reported on those channels.”

Mr Wardrop is proud of Nine’s recent WA election coverage. Traditionally, ABC TV wins election night.

“We ran commercial-free for two and a half hours, and I was delighted to see that we won every key demographic on the night. We set the pace on the night as we are doing most nights now,” Mr Wardrop said.

“We also paid a lot of money for a Galaxy News exit poll, and called the election result first, at 5pm, as a win for Labor with a 12.7 per cent swing, which is almost precisely what happened.”

Away from work, Mr Wardrop likes to cycle, and has enjoyed skiing holidays for 35 years, with travel a key love for Mr Wardrop and his wife.

“I was on a ski lift recently with a 79 year old who had not started skiing until he was 69, and he was snowboarding,” Mr Wardrop told Business News. “So there’s hope for us all.”

The Wardrops are committed supporters of breast cancer charities, with the disease having affected them personally, as Karen is a breast cancer survivor.

Despite a long career in media, Mr Wardrop says social media is not something that has a high priority in his life.

“I use Facebook for private friends only,” he said.

“I set up a Twitter account a few months ago, but have not tweeted anything yet. My first tweet better be a good one, as the pressure is building. Then again, I doubt there are people hanging out for me to tweet.”

As for his leadership style, Mr Wardrop says he likes to empower people.

“The most powerful thing you can say to someone is ‘you can do this’,” he said.

“I want someone to own their role and their job. I know that when I’m empowered, this gets the best out of me.”

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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