* Will start in January 2010, replacing Grade
* John Cresswell to remain as interim CEO
* Shares up 5.9 percent
(Adds Cresswell comments)
LONDON, Nov 18 (Reuters) - ITV Plc (ITV.L), Britain's biggest free-to-air commercial broadcaster, has turned to Archie Norman, a turnaround specialist and former Conservative politician, to end its error-strewn seven-month hunt for leadership.
Norman, known for turning around supermarket chain Asda and telecoms business Energis before selling both, but who has little or no direct experience of the TV industry, will take up the position of non-executive chairman in January. [ID:nLI97485]
His early tasks will include the selection of a chief executive, after a protracted saga which culminated earlier this year in the failure to secure the services of favoured candidates Tony Ball, ex head of BSkyB BSY.L, and Simon Fox, CEO of music retailer HMV HMV.L. [ID:nLP493693]
Shares in ITV, home to talent show X-Factor and soap opera Coronation Street, were up 5.9 percent at 55 pence by 1450 GMT, outperforming the flat DJ Stoxx European Media Index. The stock has bounced from a multi-year low of 16-1/2p set in March.
Norman, who replaces industry veteran Michael Grade, will also be responsible for lobbying politicians and regulators at a time when the Conservative party is well ahead in the opinion polls as a general election approaches. Norman is a former chief executive of the party.
"We see the appointment of a heavyweight chairman with an established track record as a positive move," UBS analysts said. "Amid a backdrop of improving ad momentum and a strong viewing share performance, there may be a possibility that Norman may make limited changes to the current executive line-up rather than look externally."
However interim CEO John Cresswell repeated his stance that he will leave once a replacement has been found, rejecting speculation he could be persuaded to stay. "I stand by the statement I made," Cresswell said at an investor conference in Barcelona.
ITV has recently shown signs of recovery from an advertising downturn and has forecast its first monthly gain in net ad revenue since the first half of 2008. [ID:nL0406654]
Cresswell, speaking at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecoms conference, said however the group was still cautious about 2010 and would not have any clear sign of trading conditions in January for another two to three weeks.
"There's no guarantee we're at the bottom," he said.
Some analysts welcomed the appointment of Norman, who became the youngest partner at business consultancy McKinsey and Co after earning an MBA from Harvard Business School and an MA from Cambridge University.
"It is an irresistible challenge," Norman, 55, said. "A great brand, a people business with enormous talent, but facing an imperative for change: the challenge of adapting to compete in a fragmented digital media world."
The appointment also goes some way to bringing an end to a leadership saga that has embarrassed the broadcaster since Grade said in April he would step back from the day-to-day running of the company. [ID:nLN499258]
Grade, who jumped ship from the BBC [BBC.UL] to join ITV as executive chairman and its apparent saviour in 2006, subsequently said he would stand down completely and would appoint a chairman to find a new chief executive. [ID:nLC270508]
"I don't mind whether I'm first choice or 51st choice," Norman told reporters after accepting the role, which would rule him out of the top job at Marks & Spencer (MKS.L).
"Transformational challenges (are) ... what I do," he said, before adding that people should not read too much into how he had tackled problems in his previous roles.
During his time at the broadcaster, Grade cut costs heavily and boosted viewing figures by focusing on cheaper-to-make shows such as Simon Cowell's X-Factor and Britain's Got Talent, which discovered Scottish singer Susan Boyle.
Cresswell said that strategy would continue.
Norman will be paid 300,000 pounds ($504,500) per year and will also be allocated 1.2 million shares -- worth 715,000 pounds at the current market price -- over the next three years. (Additional reporting by Georgina Prodhan in Barcelona; Editing by Paul Hoskins and David Holmes) ($1=.5946 Pound)