Ashley Highfield Is Chairman of Oyster Yachts Limited (since May 2018), makers of luxury British sailing boats. He is also founder of Henley Partners limited, his vehicle for investing in and advising businesses across a range of sectors. He is an Associate Director of Deloitte LLP. Between 2011 and 2018 he was CEO of Johnston Press Plc, owners of The Scotsman, The Yorkshire Post, and (from April 2016) i (newspaper) in May 2018. He has also worked for Microsoft and the BBC as main board director responsible for New Media and Technology.
In June 2015 Culture Secretary John Whittingdale named Highfield as one of eight people on an advisory board tasked with working on the renewal of the BBC's royal charter - which sets out the corporation's remit. In October 2015 he was appointed Chairman of the News Media Association, the trade body for the UK’s newspaper industry. He has held a number of non-executive roles, most recently on the boards of William Hill plc (for 9 years between 2009 and 2018) and the British Film Institute (for 7 years between 2010 and 2017).
Educated at Elizabeth College, Guernsey, and City University, London, Highfield joined Coopers & Lybrand, (now PwC) on graduation, working as a management consultant in the TMT sector for six years. In 1994 he returned to the UK to become head of IT and New Media for NBC Europe, before joining Flextech - a pay-TV channel provider - where he worked for five years as director of interactive services.
In October 2000 he joined the BBC as Director of New Media & Technology working for Greg Dyke who said in his autobiography Inside Story "Ashley is one of the most inventive people I know". Dyke also said "Ashley didn't have an easy task bringing all the BBC's online activity under one division, but he did it with great success".
In 2005, under new Director General Mark Thompson, Highfield retained his place on the new slimmed-down Executive Board and was given additional responsibility for Broadcast and Production technology across the BBC. In July 2006 the BBC reformed its structure, turning the New Media department into the Future Media & Technology department (including BBC's Information & Archives business) with Highfield at its head. During his tenure, Highfield oversaw a growth in the BBC's online presence from 3.5 million to 17 million users, and was responsible for the development and launch of BBC iPlayer. A controversial figure at the time, Highfield was described in Wired magazine as, "a Paul Smith-suit-wearing, Ferrari-driving incompetent who got lucky and took credit for the success of others."
At the time of his appointment to the BBC he was the youngest ever member of the organisation's Executive Board. His department was responsible for the BBC's internet presence - bbc.co.uk, interactive TV - BBC Red Button, mobile services, the BBC's technology portfolio and the BBC’s Archive. At the BBC, Highfield claimed £47,000 in expenses between 2004 and 2009, while on a salary of £466,000; this included a subscription to Sky and two iPods.
It was announced on 14 April 2008 that Highfield had been appointed the CEO of Project Kangaroo. Kangaroo was a joint venture between BBC, ITV & Channel 4 offering an internet-based one stop shop for all TV programmes on-demand, which was halted by the Competition Commission. He left the project in November 2008, to work for Microsoft. He was UK Managing Director of Microsoft (Consumer & Online), responsible for Windows Mobile, MSN, Hotmail, Windows Live/Instant Messenger and Bing.
In his first year the company reduced its workforce by almost a quarter as Highfield dealt with a legacy of massive debt. In May 2014 JP secured a significant refinancing deal to help put the company on a secure financial footing.
He lives in central London and is divorced.
In 2003 Highfield was awarded the Digital Innovator internet award by The Sunday Times who dubbed his vision of a 100% digital Britain a "tour de force". In 2004 he was named ‘most influential individual in technology’ by online technology news site Silicon.Com for overseeing a number of ‘firsts’ for a major broadcaster, including the use of peer-to-peer, interactive TV, and multi-casting of TV. In 2007, The Guardian placed Highfield at #31 in its annual survey of the most powerful people in the UK media industry.
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