Exam board Pearson appoints ex-Disney executive as CEO

Pearson has appointed Andy Bird, the former chairman of Walt Disney’s international operations, as chief executive.

The education company, which has been dragged into the coronavirus UK exams grading fiasco, said Bird would start on 19 October. The British executive, who is based in Los Angeles, has been a non-executive on Pearson’s board since May.

Bird will replace John Fallon, who has run the FTSE 100 company since 2013 and announced in December that he would stand down this year once a successor was found.

Pearson has struggled to reinvent its business model from a dependency on selling printed books to students to a Netflix-style digital rental model. Three years ago the business reported the largest loss in the company’s history, £2.6bn, after a string of profit warnings.

However, the company managed to maintain its dividend this year as the pandemic accelerated the shift to digital learning, with schools and universities moving operations online during lockdown.

“Since joining the board earlier this year I have quickly come to see the enormous potential across the company’s businesses,” Bird said. “I believe we have exciting prospects ahead and I look forward to playing my part in shaping the future of the company.”

Bird will remain based in Los Angeles, with Pearson contributing to the rental costs of an apartment in New York “to be used for business purposes”, and is to receive $9.3m in shares as a sweetener.

The executive had become accustomed to double-digit million-dollar annual remuneration packages at Disney, requiring Pearson to bump up its contractual offer to get their preferred candidate.

Bird will receive an annual base salary of $1.25m (£953,556) and is fronting up $3.75m of his own money to receive Pearson shares worth $9.3m. The scheme will pay out over the next three years, bridging the gap until Bird starts receiving awards under Pearson’s own long-term incentive plan.

“We are delighted to have secured someone of Andy’s calibre, after an extensive search and selection process,” said Sidney Taurel, Pearson’s chairman. “Andy brings a wealth of international consumer experience, as well as significant expertise in building brands, transformational change and driving digital innovation. He is extremely well placed to continue the transformation of Pearson.”

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