Artwork for Annette Sharp col 21.11.20 - story
Artwork for Annette Sharp col 21.11.20 - story

Nine queries hefty pay rise for ex-CEO’s girlfriend

Among key questions directors of Nine's fractured board - and senior executives and shareholders alike - still want answered following the resignation of Nine CEO Hugh Marks last week relates to the remuneration of Marks' girlfriend, Alexi Baker, who left her executive post as Nine's managing director of commercial at short notice a month ago.

With half of Nine's board still bristling over the decision - made largely on the fly last Saturday during a heated online crisis board meeting - to let outgoing CEO Hugh Marks resign and transition out of the business (his choice) rather than stand aside subject to an investigation, Nine insiders last week tabled to this column some of the questions disgruntled board members are still demanding be answered.

Nine sources say Alexi Baker received a massive six-figure pay rise recently. Picture: Jane Dempster
Nine sources say Alexi Baker received a massive six-figure pay rise recently. Picture: Jane Dempster

They include the board's interest in a hefty pay rise Baker received during her last round of contract negotiations.

Nine sources last week claimed 38-year-old Baker received a massive pay rise prior to her departure that saw her $180,000 pay bumped six figures in a recessive climate when staffing numbers at the newly-merged media company had been slashed.

Within the Liberal-leaning broadcasting arm of the business, such six-figure pay rises were once commonplace. Within the Labor-leaning publishing side of the business, formerly known as Fairfax Media, not so much.

This inconsistency goes to the heart of the war now raging within Nine's split six-member board - three of whom, including chairman Peter Costello - have their roots in the broadcasting business while the other three have their roots in the publishing division.

While the executive from the TV arm is accustomed to large bonuses and corporate largesse, the executive from the publishing division have seen few bonuses or rewards during a decade of strict austerity in newspaperland.

 

Former Nine CEO Hugh Marks, who resigned last week. Picture: Jane Dempster
Former Nine CEO Hugh Marks, who resigned last week. Picture: Jane Dempster

Insiders are also asking why Nine executives are now saying Baker - who initially indicated she would step down from Nine at the end of the year after resigning on September 28 but then was allowed to pack up her desk and depart days later - is on "gardening leave" until the end of the year.

Nine director Nick Falloon, who was on the Fairfax board pre-merger along with Patrick Allaway and Mickie Rosen, is understood to be leading the group demanding to know when Marks' relationship with Baker began.

The board is hoping to confirm Marks' assertions - made last week to Nine newspapers - that the relationship began "a couple of months ago" - and stand up the CEO's claim he never promoted or paid Baker bonuses while they were romantically involved.

Baker was promoted in February to managing director commercial from director of strategy and corporate development, a position to which Marks initially appointed her in March 2016.

 

Nine chairman Peter Costello. Picture: Josie Hayden
Nine chairman Peter Costello. Picture: Josie Hayden

Sources last week said Baker, who is divorced from Andrew McLennan, a Goldman Sachs executive she met at Credit Suisse in 2007/2008 where she worked under him, has worked closely with Marks, including a work-related assignment with Marks to the US in the middle of 2019. Marks was still married to his wife of over 20 years, Gayle, at the time.

The Nine CEO confirmed the breakdown of that marriage to The Sunday Telegraph in November 2019.

At the same time he denied any suggestion his relationship with another staffer, EA Jane Routledge, was anything but a close friendship.

Marks, 54, was photographed by The Sunday Telegraph picnicking with Ms Routledge in a Mosman park in May.

"We've been friends for 25 years," he said. "We started at Nine together; I was 29, she was 25, and we've been friends ever since. There's nothing there."

Twenty years after Marks and Routledge became friends in about 1995 - both later going their separate ways for a time professionally - Marks recalled his friend in 2015 to serve as his EA following his appointment to the CEO post.

Sources last week said Marks' relationship with Routledge - with whom he lunched in his Nine office most days until news of his marriage breakdown broke a year ago - was now under considerable strain.

The EA who attended two Australian Open tennis events in Melbourne with her boss, and also helped furnish the Berry retreat he bought in 2018 but sold this year, is now said to be weighing up her future at Nine without Marks at the helm.

Marks' continued close association to chairman Costello, whose son Seb has worked for Nine News since December 2012, is also raising questions for Nine's board, with directors still demanding to know when Peter Costello first learned his CEO was in a relationship with a staffer.

The untimely departures of two CFOs in the past year also, insist sources, has not adequately been addressed at board level.

 

 

On Thursday, Nine had an investor day at which shareholders were given a look at two internal candidates now vying for Marks' CEO job: Nine chief of digital and publishing Chris Janz, 40, and CEO of Nine streaming business Stan, Mike Sneesby, 46.

With Marks expected to depart more quickly than last weekend's statement suggests, it is Costello, who was re-elected as chairman only a week ago, who now finds himself the focus of scrutiny and under pressure to calm an unsettled board and right the troubled ship.

A spokeswoman for Nine last night said all remuneration and other contractual arrangements with employees at nine are within appropriate corporate policies and guidelines.

Originally published as Nine queries hefty pay rise for ex-CEO's girlfriend


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