(This February 25 story refiles to delete “organic” from paragraph 8)
By Kenneth Li and Jessica DiNapoli
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Thomson Reuters Corp (TRI.N) (TRI.TO) said on Tuesday it had appointed former Nielsen Holdings Plc (NLSN.N) president Steve Hasker as its new chief executive officer, succeeding Jim Smith.
The parent of Reuters News also announced higher-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings, reporting a 60% year-on-year rise in operating profit, helped by lower costs and investments following the sale of a controlling stake in the Financial and Risk (F&R) business.
The company’s shares reached a new intra-day high and traded up 2% to C$108.82 on the Toronto Stock Exchange, and 2% to $81.76 on the New York Stock Exchange.
Hasker, 50, most recently a top executive at Hollywood talent agency CAA and a senior adviser to TPG Capital, will assume his new role on March 15, Thomson Reuters said. Smith, a former journalist who oversaw a period of major change at the company, will stay on for a transition period and become chairman of the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Stephane Bello, Chief Financial Officer, will also step down from his role and will be succeeded by Mike Eastwood, current Senior Vice President of Corporate Finance. Bello will oversee strategy and business development into 2021, the company said.
Neil Masterson and Brian Peccarelli will continue in their roles as joint chief operating officers at the company.
Thomson Reuters maintained its organic revenue growth target of 4% to 4.5% in 2020 and said its margins will be a little higher than it forecast in October and also above 2019 levels.
Operating profit in the quarter rose 60 percent to $216 million. On an adjusted basis, earnings in the fourth quarter rose to $185 million, or 37 cents per share, from $102 million, or 19 cents a share a year ago. Analysts, on average, expected 33 cents a share, according to IBES from Refinitiv.
The news and information provider posted a 4% rise in revenues to $1.58 billion and showed higher sales in each of its three largest divisions: Legal Professionals, Corporates and Tax & Accounting Professionals. The Reuters News division saw revenue of $164 million, up 5 percent.
“If you ask me what I am most proud of is the people in Thomson Reuters, and what we do every day and the difference that we make in the world,” Smith said in an interview. Regarding Hasker, Smith added, “He’s going to focus on ... accelerating the growth rate and new plans, and I think he’ll be able to do that.”
The company, controlled by Canada’s Thomson family, said the board of directors approved an 8-cent per share hike in the annual dividend, to $1.52 per share.
In recent years, Thomson Reuters had cut costs and shed some businesses as it recovered from the fallout of the financial crisis in 2008.
Smith’s defining accomplishment was the sale he engineered of a 55% stake in the company’s financial division in 2018 to Blackstone Group Inc (BX.N), valuing the business at $20 billion. Blackstone subsequently struck a deal to sell the unit, now called Refinitiv, to the London Stock Exchange Group Plc (LSE.L).
Shares of Thomson Reuters have more than doubled since the Refinitiv deal, and have tripled since Smith took over as CEO in 2012.
European competition authorities are expected to rule on the London Stock Exchange’s (LSE.L) $27-billion takeover of data and analytics company Refinitiv in coming months.
LONG-TERM GROWTH PLAN
With Thomson Reuters back on strong footing under Smith’s leadership, the board wanted to recruit an executive who would chart a long-term growth strategy for the company, two sources familiar with the matter said.
“The biggest challenge moving forward will be continuing trying to accelerate growth and acquire assets that are congruent with Thomson Reuters’ existing operations,” said Colin Plunkett, an equity research analyst at Morningstar Research Services LLC.
On a call with analysts following the financial report, Smith reaffirmed the company’s commitment to the news business which now contributes about 10% of total annual revenue.
“There’s a lot for us in addition to the tradition and the emotional attachment to the news business that many of us in leadership share,” Smith said. “What we’ve tried to explore ... is more corporate verticals. I see no reason why we can’t have newsfeeds and integrate Reuters News into our professional products as successfully as we have in our financial products.”
Hasker, who also worked at McKinsey & Co as a media consultant earlier in his career, was selected by Thomson Reuters’ board based on his experience in building platforms and running businesses that collect and analyze data, two sources familiar with the matter said.
“We have to see ourselves, before too long, to be true global leaders in the advanced analytics space and in the software and AI space,” Hasker told employees in a staff conference call on Tuesday morning.
At Nielsen, which is primarily known for its TV ratings measurement business, Hasker helped accelerate the company’s transformation into a data and analytics firm tracking media consumption and consumer purchases, former colleagues said.
He negotiated partnerships with Facebook Inc (FB.O) and others to develop measurement tools at Nielsen to help advertisers identify the age, gender and location of people across the internet, one of the former colleagues said.
Writing by Nick Zieminski; editing by Edward Tobin