We spoke with Dame Helen Alexander, our new Chairman of the Thomson Reuters Founders Share Company (TRFSC). The TRFSC is an independent body that safeguards the Trust Principles - designed to preserve Thomson Reuters independence, integrity and freedom from bias in the gathering and dissemination of information and news.
Helen brings a wealth of expertise from her distinguished international career in business. Most relevantly, perhaps, she spent 23 years with The Economist Group including as managing director of Economist Intelligence Unit and chief executive of the group from 1997-2008.
She currently holds roles as Chairman of UBM plc, non-executive director of Huawei UK and PWC UK, and was previously a director of Rolls-Royce, Centrica, esure, BT and Northern Foods and president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). In 2011 she was awarded a DBE for services to business and the Legion d’honneur in 2015. She is Deputy Chairman of the Hampton-Alexander Review into the representation of women in senior levels of business, and the Chancellor of the University of Southampton.
After originally becoming a trustee for the TRFSC in 2011, and spending time as Deputy Chair, Dame Helen took on the position of Chairman at the beginning of this year from Uffe Ellemann-Jensen.
Tell us about what’s coming up for the Founders Share Company.
I’m incredibly excited. Becoming Chairman is a chance to shape the TRFSC agenda. We have a duty to keep in touch with the industry challenges facing journalists and other Thomson Reuters colleagues. The role keeps me thinking hard about the future of media and information. Also about the hugely important and often difficult role our journalists play in the dissemination of news.
It is extremely important for us to build a framework to spread the Principles to areas of the world where they are especially needed, and to make sure we have the skills and experience needed for Thomson Reuters to maintain its leading position in the international news and information business.
What are the challenges we face over the next 3 – 5 years?
In a post-truth society, where we’re faced with multiple versions of the truth, Thomson Reuters has a huge role to play. From our Reuters legacy, we’re known for unbiased news and that’s enormously valuable.
We need to develop our understanding of the trends and possible scenarios in the news market over the next 3-5 years. The health of the media business is dependent on the intertwining of commercial and editorial strategy. News must be valuable to readers; judged, for example, by what they are willing to pay for.
How has your career prepared you for leading the TRFSC?
At The Economist, I got a real sense of how a company can evolve and stay relevant. The Economist was faced with international expansion, the proliferation of media outlets, and transformation to digital platforms. The formula for success for Thomson Reuters will be in its ability to access and grasp opportunities.
Both companies have Trustees to uphold and protect editorial independence, and who value the relationship between the commercial and editorial sides to survive and thrive.
UBM is a B2B events company now, which also comes from a media heritage. Similar to Thomson Reuters it involves global delivery of information and trading opportunities to clients.
The last one I’ll mention that I have learnt so much from is the aerospace business, Rolls-Royce. This is another strong international brand with a British heritage, evolving in a fast changing world. If they had not changed and invested in innovation they would not be as healthy today.
Do you have an opinion on sponsored content?
Sponsored content, native advertising and advertorial is nothing new. The reality is it’s there.
For editorial teams and branded content studios, clarity of purpose and clarity of the relationship, is vital. Pretending something isn’t the case, is not on. In sponsored content you must make it crystal clear where independence and the editorial relationship lies.
What have you noticed about Thomson Reuters?
I’m very impressed by your attitudes to diversity and inclusion at Thomson Reuters. I was recently involved in the Thomson Reuters Change Makers Summit in London where I was pleased to see people committing publicly to taking action. I’m 100 percent behind it.
Tell us about your role as a trustee of Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation
I worked with Sir Tim Berners-Lee on the board setting up the foundation some time ago now. We thought about how to promote use of the web in places like Africa, addressing restrictions on the internet, and how it would evolve.
We are faced with threats to internet freedom, and security threats, but also lots of opportunity. The WWWF tries to make sure that those opportunities are grasped.
What are you reading?
I could give you a preprepared answer, but the honest one is “The House by the Lake” by Thomas Harding, set in Germany in the 20th century. My father was in Berlin after the war, and my mother spent her childhood in a house by a lake in what is now Estonia, so it has some personal meaning for me though I never lived in either place – I was born in Geneva, Switzerland.
Learn more about our Trust Principles and the Thomson Reuters Founders Share Company.