PROFILE: Virgin force - John Pearson chief executive Virgin radio

John Pearson, chief executive of Virgin Radio, is very attached to his office. Who wouldn’t be. It commands a panoramic view over London’s prestigious Golden Square. The scene behind that window must, however, have been less bright over the past seven months as Pearson and many Virgin Radio staff waited anxiously to see whether they would keep their jobs.

John Pearson, chief executive of Virgin Radio, is very attached to

his office. Who wouldn’t be. It commands a panoramic view over London’s

prestigious Golden Square. The scene behind that window must, however,

have been less bright over the past seven months as Pearson and many

Virgin Radio staff waited anxiously to see whether they would keep their


Last week they found they had survived a takeover bid by Capital


Chris Evans and his Ginger Productions have rescued Virgin from the

limbo in which the Monopolies and Mergers Commission had left it with

the Capital deal. Evans announced he had bought the station for pounds

85m, giving him a majority holding of 55%, with Richard Branson

retaining 20%.

Pearson, 40, was instrumental in signing Evans for Virgin’s breakfast

show and now Evans has rewarded his commitment to the station by handing

him the top job.

Virgin’s longest-serving employee, Pearson has continued to improve the

station’s fortunes even though, during the turmoil, his job hung in the

balance. It demonstrates his loyalty to and passion for Virgin Radio at

a time when others might have thrown in the towel.

This is a time of celebration for Pearson, but he is not the sort of man

to display his emotions or to gloat at Capital’s failure. He is

surprisingly low key about his new role, but this is probably due to

lack of sleep after the past week’s parties.

Friends and business associates regard him as a man with integrity and

imagination, who is straightforward and an all-round nice bloke. John

Nicholson, corporate development director at Scottish & Newcastle, says:

’I’m pleased for John. The fact that he stuck with the station is an

example of his professionalism and straightforward passion for the


Robert Devereux, chairman of the Virgin Media Group and previously

chairman of Virgin Radio, confirms Pearson’s unwavering and almost

frustrating modesty. He says: ’He wears any success lightly, and

deflects personal praise on to the efforts of his team. He is a pleasure

to work with even in a disagreement.’

His modesty is almost ludicrous. Getting Pearson to agree to have his

photograph taken for this piece proved a gruelling process. Many of his

industry counterparts would relish the attention that comes with such a

senior role.

Pearson has always worked in media. He was initially drawn to

newspapers, following in the steps of his big brother, Geoff. He began

his career in classified sales with Thompson Regional Newspapers.

However, his real ambition was to be a journalist, but he was prevented

by the fact that he is, in his words ’completely illiterate’. Determined

to be a success in media, he turned his attentions to radio, beginning

as a sales executive at Radio Luxembourg in 1979, after being turned

down by Capital Radio. Ironically, he was later employed by Capital

Radio, where he became sales group head and remained for seven years -

his longest period of employment with one company.

After a brief stint at IPC Magazines, he went to LBC, then joined Virgin

Radio in 1992 as sales director, playing an key role in its launch.

Pearson says he is not a ’music anorak’ and will not be pigeonholed by

naming his favourite bands. Equally, he will not single out a favourite

DJ from Virgin’s past and present line-up, which includes Chris Evans,

Russ ’n Jono, Alan Freeman and Gary Davies.

’It’s like asking me to name which of my children I prefer,’ he


He will undoubtedly be a driving force in the future of Virgin Radio

under a Ginger regime. Although Ginger seems to be this season’s colour,

Pearson dismisses the idea that the station will be rebranded.

Virgin will be mounting an attack against BBC Radio One and hints that

the fight against Capital will not be as bitter as it has been in the

past, especially given recent events. With typical sang-froid he says:

’Infighting is not very positive for the industry as whole.’

Pearson regards the past few months as an adventure. ’It’s been a

roller-coaster ride, but I would do it all over again,’ he says. Well,

hold tight the ride has just begun again.


1976-1979      Classified sales/telesales trainer, Thompson Regional


1979-1980      Sales executive, Radio Luxembourg

1980-1987      Sales executive/sales group head, Capital Radio

1987-1989      Sales controller, IPC Magazines

1989-1992      Sales controller/sales director, LBC Radio

1992-present   Sales director/managing director/ then chief executive,

               Virgin Radio


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