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Torstar turns to a marketing guru as its new CEO

Outgoing Torstar president and CEO David Holland looks on at the annual general meeting for shareholders in Toronto, May 5, 2010.

MARK BLINCH/REUTERS

After a protracted search, Toronto Star parent company Torstar Corp. announced on Friday that John Boynton will take over as president and chief executive officer.

Mr. Boynton succeeds David Holland, who retired on Friday after more than 30 years at the newspaper and digital-media company.

The 53-year-old Mr. Boynton was chosen for his strong background in marketing and data analytics, and his reputation as a "turnaround specialist," according to the company. Since 2014, he has worked as chief marketing officer of the Americas Coalitions business at Montreal-based Aimia Inc., which operates Aeroplan and other loyalty programs around the globe. Before that, he spent 12 years at Rogers Communications Inc., most recently as chief marketing officer. He also served in executive roles at Sprint Canada, AT&T Canada, Scott's Hospitality and Pepsico.

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Related: Torstar at a crossroads

In his new role, Mr. Boynton will have to grapple with the digital future of the Toronto-based media company as the distribution of news has migrated to social-media platforms – and advertisers have followed, pouring money into giants such as Facebook and Google at the expense of the companies who invest in creating that content.

Torstar has poured more than $30-million into its Star Touch edition made especially for tablet devices, in a bid to attract digital readers and to sell high-value digital ads.

It has not gone as planned: Tablet sales have slowed and people are spending an overwhelming amount of time reading articles and consuming other media content on smartphones.

Earlier this week, Mr. Holland said his successor would have to "reflect hard" on the future of the project.

Torstar's stake in VerticalScope – a Toronto-based operator of niche websites that target audiences with interests in such subjects as health, pets and cars – is the biggest driver of the company's digital growth. But like many media companies, Torstar, which owns Canada's largest-circulation newspaper as well as more than 100 community papers and a number of digital properties, has struggled with declining print-advertising revenues that have far outpaced its digital growth.

Torstar has been on an aggressive cost-cutting mission that has included layoffs, the closure of the Guelph Mercury, in Guelph, Ont., outsourcing its printing operations to Transcontinental Inc., and the $455-million sale of romance-novel publisher Harlequin.

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Mr. Boynton is a divisive figure who is known for his drive, knowledge of data analytics and strong boardroom experience but also for a sometimes abrasive personality, according to former colleagues.

"His background in leading successful teams in a variety of businesses, including data, digital, technology, Internet, mobile, video, entertainment and consumer goods, is ideally suited for Torstar at this time in the company's evolution towards a more digital and mobile future," Torstar board chair John Honderich said in a release.

The company declined requests for interviews with Mr. Honderich and Mr. Boynton.

Born and raised in Toronto, Mr. Boynton is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario's Richard Ivey School of Business.

He will be the 11th president and CEO of Torstar and the 10th publisher of the Toronto Star in the newspaper's 125-year history.

He takes over the post March 31.

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With files from James Bradshaw

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About the Author
Media and Marketing Reporter

Susan covers marketing and media for Report on Business. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2009, Susan worked as a freelance reporter contributing to the Ottawa Citizen, the Montreal Gazette and other publications, as well as CBC Radio's Dispatches and Search Engine. She has a Masters degree in journalism from Carleton University. More

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