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Textbook publisher Pearson names former Disney exec as new CEO

Edmund Heaphy
·Finance and news reporter
·2-min read
Walt Disney International President Andy Bird speaks during a press conference in Bombay, India, Tuesday, July 25, 2006.   Bird announced that Walt Disney has acquired leading Indian children's channel, Hungama TV, and has taken strategic stake in UTV Software Communications limited. (AP Photo/Rajesh Nirgude)
Andy Bird left his job as chairman of Walt Disney International in 2018 as part of a company restructuring process. Photo: Rajesh Nirgude/AP

Pearson (PSON.L) said on Monday that it had appointed former Disney (DIS) executive Andy Bird as its new chief executive to drive its shift toward digital publishing.

Bird, who left Disney in 2018 after 14 years at the company, helped the entertainment giant overhaul the digital strategy of its international arm, including by transforming its route-to-market and product portfolio, Pearson said.

“Andy brings a wealth of international consumer experience, as well as significant expertise in building brands, transformational change and driving digital innovation,” said Sidney Taurel, the chairman of Pearson.

“He is an inspirational and dynamic leader with an excellent track record of growth,” he said.

“Because of his experience and skills, he is extremely well placed to continue the transformation of Pearson, leading it to a new era of growth and enhancing value for all our shareholders.”

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Bird left his job as chairman of Walt Disney International as part of a restructuring process arranged by then-chief executive Bob Iger.

London-based Pearson, which is the world’s largest education publisher, has spent the better part of a decade recasting its previously print-heavy business into a digital publishing colossus.

But the digital transformation has had an impact on the company’s bottom line, prompting it to issue repeat profit warnings as the costs associated with the changes mounted.

Pearson last year announced it would adopt a “digital first” approach to updating its course materials in the higher education market, even though new editions of its print textbooks had been a key source of revenue for the company.

But Pearson has been positively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, considering the extent to which widespread lockdowns and the closure of schools and colleges has hastened the shift to digital learning across the world.

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Bird is currently a non-executive director of Pearson, having been appointed to the board on 1 May.

Prior to working for Disney, Bird held a number of senior roles at AOL Time Warner.

He will replace John Fallon, who has been chief executive since 2013, on 19 October. Fallon last year announced plans to retire and will step down from the board on that date, remaining as an advisor until the end of the year.

“During his tenure as chief executive, John has significantly simplified, modernised and re-shaped Pearson, building a digital education company that is focused on experience, outcomes and affordability,” said Taurel.