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
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
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,