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WEST Australian Newspapers Holdings has started its formal search for a new chief executive.

WA Newspapers head Denis Thompson confirmed a Sydney executive search firm had been commissioned to find a replacement for him by February 2002, his 10th anniversary at the helm of the media group.

“The brief is fairly broad,” Mr Thompson told Business News.

He said the head of the company was a hands-on role for someone who could operate without a general manager stepping between them and the operations.

“Being mindful of that, wide media experience, that is appropriate.”

He said the new person would need to bring “some vision to say where we go from here”.

Mr Thompson’s departure was announced at the company’s AGM in November, providing the market with 15 months’ notice.

Such a lengthy period has been criticised by some observers because it was unlikely WA Newspapers could make any significant moves until a new chief was found and given time to settle into the position.

CIBC World Markets analyst Robert Gee is pessimistic about WA Newspapers’ share price for the rest of the year, due to the tough market and current uncertainty about who will head the business.

“Denis is leaving and they are looking for a new MD, so the business is not going to do anything for the next six months,” Mr Gee said.

However, his forecast of poorer-than-expected June quarter figures did pave the way for WA Newspapers’ share price to soften enough, perhaps to around $4.50, which could make a bid from Fairfax a possibility.

“There is a lot of logic to it,” he said.

“Fairfax have no exposure in WA.”

Mr Gee said there had been rumours of a management restructuring, on top of the existing hiring freeze, but such a move was unlikely under the current holding pattern while a new chief was found.

“He (Mr Thompson) is a bit like Ed Posey at Burswood before he left,” he said.

“The new guy can do all the dirty work.”

But Mr Thompsom defended the long lead time provided for his departure date.

He said he had told WA Newspapers chairman Trevor Eastwood in September last year that he would like to leave by June. His departure date was then delayed by factors such as changes to the board, but the company was obliged to advise the market.

“Unlike some companies which don’t have corporate governance, we do,” Mr Thompson said.

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