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New Zealand’s Yellow Pages Group posted a net loss after tax of NZ$338 million for the financial year ended June 30, but much of the loss resulted from one-time items. The company actually managed to grow revenues 1.4 percent to NZ$297 million, with print dropping 1.6 percent (a modest decline to say the least compared with other global publishers), while growing online revenues a whopping 43.9 percent. Online still accounts for a comparatively small piece of YPG-NZ’s revenues at 9.5 percent.

One of YPG-NZ’s primary concerns is its debt. The company was acquired by a private equity consortium in May 2007 at the peak of selling multiples for directories firms, at 13 times EBITDA, leveraging it to 10X to make the deal. The company was worth about NZ$2.3 billion when it was bought and perhaps a billion less today.

In a breakfast I had with CEO Bruce Cotterill recently in Milan (where he was speaking at the Yellow Pages Today conference), he described his job as helping the owners earn back the money they’ve lost since the sale. To do this, Cotterill is focused on costs, execution and making his company more focused on customer satisfaction, among other things. He said in the nine months since he’s come on, he’s personally phoned every unhappy customer who has come to his attention.

He also understands that he needs to grow revenues. He believes much of the recent softness in print is related to the economy and poor execution, though he concedes a longer term trend away from print. He believes strongly that YPG-NZ can still benefit from investing in print, while the company also needs a new online platform as well as a new publishing platform.

In his presentation at YPT, Cotterill listed a set of nine areas of near-term focus for his company. They were: optimizing the sales force; meeting financial obligations and opportunities; becoming “content rich”; establishing brand leadership in NZ; re-enabling business systems; aggressively growing digital; providing outstanding customer service; attracting, developing and growing great people; and, finally, defending and growing print revenues.

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