All posts tagged 'KM-Group'

From boring to rock 'n' roll in 20 years

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Friday, March 1 2013
Anniversaries are a good excuse to look back at a past that has shaped our present and places the future in context.

March 1993 seems like yesterday, the month the first issue of Kent Business appeared.

This week, inside most KM Group paid-for titles, you will find a 36-page issue, with a 12-page birthday pullout looking back over 20 momentous years.

In the early 90s, it was a bold move by the KM Group to add a dedicated business title - soon dubbed the pink ‘un after the colour of its newsprint - to its stable of daily, weekly and niche publications.

Just as now, we were in recession. Advertising was a challenge. Business journalism was regarded by colleagues as rather boring, certainly not as exciting as the world of hard news, crime, animals, family and sport.

But thanks to the enthusiasm for business of my talented late colleague Brian Paine, who edited specialist publications at the time and with whom I had worked in the Middle East, Kent Business came out on time, with good luck tributes from Robin Leigh-Pemberton, governor of the Bank of England, Michael Howard, then MP for Folkestone and Hythe, Sir Alastair Morton, then chief executive of Eurotunnel, Sir Michael Angus, Kent-based CBI president, and Alex King, deputy KCC leader.

And, 240 issues later, it’s still standing, thanks to support from our advertisers, contributors and readers of what I hope is a stimulating editorial offering. Three senior figures who wished us well have kindly contributed to the 20th birthday issue, along with Lord Digby Jones, Allan Willett, former Lord Lieutenant of Kent, Amanda Cottrell, chairman of VisitKent, and several business leaders. I am grateful for their generous words.

Over the years, business - often written off by newsroom colleagues as "boring" - became more exciting, transformed by the credit crunch, Robert Peston, bailouts of Northern Rock, RBS and Lloyds TSB, whopping banker bonuses, and the collapse of the likes of Lehman Brothers. Suddenly, business writing became the new rock ‘n’ roll.

Like sports reporting, a patch I enjoyed before setting up the KM Group business desk, it has similar elements of drama, triumph and disaster, victory and defeat, hubris and nemesis, greed and altruism, hire and fire.

TV woke up to its dramatic potential. Millions engaged in the troubleshooting of avuncular Sir John Harvey-Jones, the verbal brutality of Lord Sugar in The Apprentice, and entrepreneurs in Dragons’ Den.

Fly-on-the wall documentaries made the internal workings of business endlessly fascinating.

Kent is generally in a better place than in 1993, at the heart of a European region with rapid links to the Continent. No longer on the wrong side of the tracks, high-speed rail is changing living patterns and economic trends. The rest of the world has yet to properly wake-up to this transport revolution.

Manufacturing has reduced but still contributes significantly to Kent’s GDP. Councils now generally better understand the important contribution of business to a thriving community.

The high street also looks different, with many familiar names disappearing and new ones - especially restaurants, fast food outlets and coffee shops - filling the vacated spaces.

And of course the digital revolution has transformed the media landscape, with the internet, Facebook, Twitter, iPads, 24-hour news, blogs and citizen journalism competing with newsprint in a multimedia world.

Culturally, there is now Turner Contemporary which is contributing to the gradual economic progress of Thanet.

No doubt we shall see a new Thames Crossing, new roads, business parks, an expanded Manston and a new Manston Parkway, east Kent growth, and rising demand for what our farmers and fruit growers produce so well. 

More troubling for those who love our Garden of England will be the spread of houses on green fields - but an expanding population has to live somewhere.

There will almost certainly be a Paramount Park on Swanscombe Peninsula. Perhaps an Amazon warehouse in Ashford. Whether there is a hub airport in the Thames Estuary or on the Goodwin Sands is very doubtful.

Young people have not been well served by recent economic trends. A wider choice of jobs in the 90s has given way to a tougher market for the young - with and without skills.

But there is no denying Kent and Medway are in a brilliant location, although it  has taken a long time for outsiders to wake up to that fact.

Kent Business has reported on outstanding civic and business leaders such as the late Lord Sandy Bruce Lockhart and Sir Alastair Morton, changing aspiration and perception through their vision and achievements.

Our entrepreneurs and leaders of businesses of all sizes have driven jobs and wealth creation. 

Kent Business, now on white newsprint, has had talented people on its team over 20 years. Some have been honoured by another long-established organisation Shepherd Neame, the 300-year old brewery that has done so much for the county, as well as supporting the annual Kent Media Awards for 25 years.

Columnists such as Professor Richard Scase, the late Martin Jackson - a perceptive media observer - and others have provided wisdom and authority, while our late cartoonist Alan Ralph injected laughter.

Above all, I thank KM Group for continued support, and Brian Paine for his commitment to business. Sadly, no longer with us, I am sure he looks down with a creative eye and words of encouragement to keep us “doing the business” for this great county of ours.

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The triumphs and tragedies of my life as a newshound

by The Codgers' Club Monday, February 25 2013

by Alan Watkins

It seems like only yesterday I started at infants school, learned the three Rs and moved through the neighbouring junior school to the local grammar where I was one of the conspicuously poor pupils.

Then one day I was let loose on an unsuspecting world with one dream in mind – to be a reporter.

Never mind journalists: they are unlikely to recognise a news story and be able to report on it. I mean a hardbitten newshound.

I started with a freelance agency in Gloucester that’s still going, took my exams, got 140-words-a-minute Pitman’s shorthand and got ticked off by a judge for misunderstanding a court order allowing a couple of villains to have a few more days of liberty. Yep – I’ve been in the dock and never want to return there.

I have covered some of the big stories of the day. Tough newsmen covered in mud and coaldust were reduced to tears when they were offered a cup of tea after returning to the office from Aberfan.

Concorde’s first flight in Britain was like watching an anaemic mantis as it roared oh so slowly around the tower of Gloucester Cathedral before returning to its test base at Fairford.

I remember one High Court judge who could never refer to ladies underwear other than as nether garments (a distinct problem when dealing with many sex cases).

He hated psychiatrists – yet one had the temerity to turn up late for his court after carrying out trials on himself of a new drug called lysergic acid diethylamide (or LSD to the pop followers of the Sixties).

Fortunately the police stepped in, said he had been taken ill and rushed him back to his hospital to sleep it off.

We competed in a TV quiz called Beat the Press and defeated the Mayor of Taunton’s team so convincingly the Beeb ended the series.

I have chatted with some of the most notorious post-war murderers – they in the dock, me at the adjacent press bench – and watched the Home Office pathologist, Keith Simpson, as he ended the courtroom appearances of Quinton Hogg, the QC who went on to be Lord Chancellor.

Politicians? I’ve known a few and I still consider John Prescott to be misunderstood and under-rated (certainly he did a lot for Medway when he was Deputy Prime Minister).

I’ve had my day. I’ve loved every minute of reporting, most especially for the KM Group.

Now it’s time to give my wife the attention she richly deserves and let others get the stories I missed or failed to uncover. There are many of them to be unearthed.

It’s not the end, however. I shall still be writing for the Codgers column from my bath chair, as long as readers want it.

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Edwin Boorman: 'A father figure and man of the people'

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Thursday, March 15 2012

It may not be the thing to blog about your boss but Edwin Boorman, president of the KM Group, and former chief executive, was out of the ordinary.

I have known him since joining the company some 24 years ago. Before that, I had only heard of him by reputation. I recall my mother, a staunch WI member in North West Kent, once remarking that the head of the Kent Messenger had given a talk to her Institute. “What a handsome man,” she recalled. “The ladies were swooning.”  The content of his talk was an afterthought!

Those looks stayed with him, an attractive imposing figure who commanded a room and always appearing far younger than the calendar suggested.

To many staff, he was more than a boss, a father figure who was also a man of the people, happy to chat with his team, even though he might forget your name. He was no hire and fire executive, preferring a paternal outlook that sometimes meant keeping people on instead of  cutting an overhead.

He was a member of the Kent Establishment, a VIP fraternity rooted deeply in the county and committed to batting for it at all times.

Edwin held a position of influence and was so well connected. A supreme networker who would often suggest I contact so-and-so about a good story he had picked up.

Yet he was happy to chat to the humblest member of staff. I was impressed that he found time for hand-written letters of congratulation or condolence.

A family ethos fostered personal loyalty and led to the KM Group being voted Best Company to Work For - based on staff opinions - for several years in a row.

That did not mean an easy ride. There were targets to meet and always better results to achieve, yet staff would invariably go the extra mile for Edwin.

There were rocky economic times to negotiate and Edwin - a keen sailor - was on the bridge at difficult times.

Unusually, Edwin was a business leader with an extensive hinterland, investing huge amounts of time, energy and resource in community work. His combination of business leadership with deep commitment to good causes meant delegating KM work to non-family members. Yet he was always alive to new business opportunities.

His charitable outlook spread across his company which would sponsor and support many worthwhile initiatives for young and old, business and leisure, all with the ultimate goal of being good for his beloved Kent.

I was disappointed that Edwin did not receive a deserved knighthood like his fellow media magnate and pal Sir Ray Tindle with whom he often shared the London-Brighton veteran car run. Others have received it for less. But the Queen honoured him with an OBE and Prince Charles gave him a Spirit of Kent award.

It is easy to knock people in influential positions. The media which Edwin championed love to kick doers and risk-takers. Edwin was nothing if not a doer and risk-taker. Not every idea worked. He made mistakes but learned from them.

He was not an interfering media baron laying down a political line but content to leave editors to determine their own path. However, when it came to any campaign he judged good for the county, he would encourage them to give it widespread coverage.

It is easier to do nothing than stick your head above the parapet. Edwin preferred to invest in the public realm and make a difference.

He touched many lives in so many walks of life. But especially those staff who had known him a long time. No wonder there is an atmosphere of unspoken sadness across KM Group newsrooms and offices.

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Q&A is a winner

by The Gills Blog, with Luke Cawdell Tuesday, March 15 2011

MONDAY night was a first for us at the KM Group as we decided to try out a live question and answer session on the internet with Gillingham manager Andy Hessenthaler.
I know we have been running regular Monday afternoon sessions with myself and Gillingham fans, but on Monday we set a new first, by giving people the chance to ask Hessenthaler questions directly over the internet.
We have been experimenting for some time with the different opportunities that the internet and social media has given us and it’s great to see a large section of Gillingham fans getting on board.
I’ve sat in the Great Hall at Priestfield several times where fans get the chance to grill the club’s hierarchy and it has always proved a popular draw.
So why not try the idea out on the internet?
It didn’t take much persuading for Andy Hessenthaler to agree to take part, even if it meant he had to give up an evening of his own time to join us at our office in Strood.
He seemed more than happy to liaise with supporters and didn’t seem to mind that nobody bothered offering him a drink! All he got was a couple of tic-tacs, but it didn’t seem to hinder the night.
While Hess asked assistant Ian Hendon to cover his scouting duties he came to face a huge number of questions from Gills fans on the internet. Almost 250 came in by the end of the evening.
All credit to Andy for taking any questions thrown at him. His responses were revealing, honest and insightful. It’s just a shame we only had an hour as by the amount of interest and questions coming our way we could have been there all night!
For us it was also a good opportunity to listen to Andy’s thought on a wide variety of subjects, something we don’t often get chance to explore.
If you’ve seen the Q&A session feel free to send any comments, good or bad. The more feedback the better.

On another matter, we’ve got a new columnist appearing this week in the Medway Messenger newspaper.
Mark Bentley’s decision to join Cambridge United on loan meant we had to bring someone in on loan ourselves to replace Benno’s Beat.
Taking over the role is Nicky Southall and his debut column, “Trigger’s Tales” (that was his choice) will be with us shortly!

Rocking the boat

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Monday, September 27 2010

There are plenty of networking groups around the county. BNI makes members get up early in the morning for a breakfast at which they make a short speech and give referrals to each other. They often tot up to combined big money. But miss a few breakfasts and you’re out.

ABC is a more relaxed Medway group that broke away from BNI because of its rather draconian attitude to persistent absentees. But they still do the business.

Then there is Bizlinx, which holds interesting events at different times of the day and night.  This month, some 40 members boarded the Symphony for a lunchtime cruise along the Thames, past the Eye and almost as far as the O2.

There were two guest speakers, Mona Lewis, a former Apprentice from Lord Sugar’s TV show, and now an Olympic Games business promotion expert with Business Support Kent; and myself.

I have never spoken before in such an unusual setting. The boat rocked a bit in the Thames swell - no it wasn’t the wine! - and commentary about the famous London sites we passed could not be switched off during the speeches.  Speak loud, project your voice, I thought!

And the speeches had to be short enough to ensure that they were finished in time for disembarkation at the Embankment.

But despite the distractions, Mona and I hopefully just about managed to get across our messages about business help and media, especially the KM Group, respectively.

And there was some good news for members. Stuart Kenny, Bizlinx regional development manager, announced that subs would be coming down from £1,000 to £650 a year. Well done to Stuart for winning the argument against franchise chiefs. His region is the only one to slash prices, but others may try to follow.

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