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Tuesday, January 26, 1999 Published at 15:26 GMT

Business: The Company File

Never the full Monty

Like many a driven high-achiever, David Montgomery was the last to see the inevitability of his own demise at the Mirror Group.

While less-stubborn chief executives would have long since given way, Montgomery has until now stood fast against a powerful array of opponents amid the standoff with the regional publisher, Trinity Group.

He has been the sticking point in a takeover move which pitted him against Trinity chief executive Philip Graf, powerful Mirror shareholder Phillips & Drew Fund Management and even the Mirror Group's own chairman Victor Blank.

Earlier this month, Trinity said Montgomery's desperate bid to hold out for a senior exective's position in any merged entity had seen the initial talks collapse.

His proprietary feelings towards the Mirror Group are understandable after his success in guiding the group through its post-Maxwell phase, restoring financial credibility after the former owner's plundering of its pension fund almost sent the company under.

'Slash and burn' man

[ image: David Montgomery: No Monty in journalists' eyes]
David Montgomery: No Monty in journalists' eyes
After six years, his longest stint anywhere, Montgomery's reputation as a "slash and burn" manager appears to have caught up with him.

The Ulsterman's critics often said that in the longer term his cost cutting ability was not enough. He has a poor record of building businesses and boosting circulation, they say.

Ruthless job cutting inspired his jaundiced nickname among journalists with an eye for war history: It has to be "Rommel" they said, because "Monty" was on our side.

His reign at the Mirror Group has seen attempts to diversify the business by buying regional titles to reduce dependence on national titles. He clearly thought he was the one that could best run a merged Trinity-Mirror.

Performance in character

Those in the newspaper industry who have come across David Montgomery, now aged 50, won't be surprised by the stand he took to save his job.

Many who have crossed paths with him on his way up have also crossed swords - from Rupert Murdoch down.

Once among the mogul's favoured lieutenants, Montgomery spurned his one-time mentor like he had many others above him. He never seemed to mind letting them know when he thought he knew better.

From a stern Ulster Protestant background, he apparently chose journalism as a career from an early age. Unlike most journalists it was always to be a stepping stone to the business of running newspapers, and ultimately to the boardroom.

Another departure from most journalists' career path saw Montgomery start as a sub-editor rather than a reporter, realising that newspaper editors came from backroom production rather than from writers with a byline.

It all began in the Daily Mirror's Manchester office in 1973 before moving to London where ambition soon had him on the rise. By 1980 he had moved to The Sun as chief sub editor after pushing his superiors one step too far at the Mirror.

After just a year at The Sun, he made another high-powered enemy in Kelvin Mackenzie, then the paper's editor. On he went to People, then following editor Nicholas Lloyd to News of the World in 1984, succeeding him as editor in 1985.

Murdoch's lieutenant

In 1987 he had done enough to earn Murdoch's ear at News Corporation. He accepted Montgomery's proposal to buy the troubled Today title from Robert Maxwell and install him as editor. As editor of News UK, he entered Murdoch's inner circle only to be cast off after irking the world's most powerful media proprietor like he had many bosses before.

But Maxwell's death in 1991 gave him his opportunity to return to to newspapers in a big way - and this time not just as editor, but managing director.

It was here his reputation for ruthlessness swelled as he drastically cut costs and jobs. He relaunched the paper as the Mirror, shuffled editors and pushed new workplace efficiency measures on staff.

Staff at the Independent breathed an enormous collective sigh of relief when the man they saw as a tabloid tyrant sold the quality newspaper to Tony O'Reilly.

This time round there may well be just as many investors and executives at Trinity and the Mirror heaving such a sigh.

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