The next CEO of The Associated Press will be the first woman and the first person of color to lead the 175-year-old nonprofit. Meet Daisy Veerasingham.

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Marguerite Veerasingham.
  • Daisy Veerasingham will become the first woman and the first person of color to lead the PA.
  • During her 17 years at the AP, she has seen it go global and she intends to continue this growth.
  • A key part of her leadership style is her ability to lead both formally and informally, she said.
  • See more stories on the Insider business page.

From determining style to calling international elections, The Associated Press is widely regarded as the epicenter of journalism.

In January, Daisy Veerasingham will become the first woman, first person of color and first non-American to serve as CEO of the 175-year-old nonprofit news organization.

Last year, the turnover of the AP fell to $ 467 million, down more than 25% in a decade. For comparison, one of its main competitors, Reuters, reported 2019 revenue of $ 630 million. But the AP’s business model differs from other news agencies – the majority of its revenue comes from content license to other media organizations, and as a non-profit organization, it only needs to break even to survivebecause it does not share the profits with the shareholders.

“Basically the PA is a business-to-business,” Veerasingham, 52, told Insider. “When you’re basically selling in a core market that’s under pressure, of course the PA has been under pressure.”

For the PA to be financially and journalistically successful, Veerasingham said, it must continue to grow internationally and diversify its revenue streams, which would essentially be the continuation of its work over the past decade. In 2016, she led the acquisition of the British Movietone film archives to extend the AP as a resource for documentary filmmakers and other clients. It also controlled activity around broadcast facilities, leasing AP sites around the world to other media companies.

While other American news agencies have reduced abroad, the PA still has the most extensive infrastructure to report on the ground. Veerasingham’s rise to the top illustrates how one of the most famous media institutions adapts to digital journalism and reflects its global audience.

During his 17 years at the AP, Veerasingham has held positions ranging from Director of TV Sales to COO, his current position. Over the years, she says, she has cultivated a flexible and collaborative approach to leadership, preferring to let her employees lead meetings, for example.

“Adaptability is really important – the style and the way you do things has to change depending on the environment,” said Veerasingham. “There are times when you get involved and lead, but there are also times when you can lead more informally.”

Navigate cultural differences

As a British national of Sri Lankan descent who will become the first non-US CEO, Veerasingham underscored her commitment to making the PA a truly global organization.

“It is a great honor to hold this leadership position at The Associated Press – period,” said Veerasingham. “But also, the fact that I represent so many firsts is just as important because it gives others hope as to what is possible.”

Gary Pruitt, who has been the AP CEO since 2012, said Veerasingham has the confidence to delegate and the instincts to do so. They have worked closely for years as peers of the C suite, but as Pruitt prepares to retire, he’s noticed the depth of his leadership abilities, he said. He observed how she worked with new teams respecting people’s expertise and asking relevant questions.

“She listens more than she talks, but people listen to her when she talks,” Pruitt said. “To all her engagements, she brings her humanity and her compassion.”

An essential part of Veerasingham’s job is to navigate cultural norms and customs on his travels. It comes naturally to him, Pruitt said, adding that when he started as CEO, he turned to her to model cultural literacy.

Veerasingham has sometimes been treated differently on her international travels due to her race or gender. She described a case where local custom did not allow single women to go out, so she ate in her hotel room while her male colleagues had dinner together in town.

“I’ve always wanted to work in a global organization,” said Veerasingham. “While these situations are difficult, I have found it essential to keep a sense of humor and understand the cultural nuances so as not to take things like this too personally.”

Adapting to a changing journalism market

Veerasingham’s approach to leadership is all about versatility – and there have been plenty of reasons to adapt. The 2010s were a difficult decade for the PA; he lost nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in revenue from 2008 to 2018, the Columbia Journalism Review reported.

Veerasingham enters a media landscape with a pandemic, numerous climatic disasters and humanitarian crises from Afghanistan to the US-Mexico border. Despite these major current events, the number of AP locations has reduced since 2018, and last spring the press team was embroiled in controversy when a press associate, Emily Wilder, was fired after express pro-Palestinian opinions on social media.

While the AP has been reporting internationally for over 100 years, its primary audience has always been in the United States. But today, he says, 40% of his income comes from outside the country.

“We took an active decision a long time ago to ensure that we had teams that were fully diverse and representative of the regions in which they worked,” said Veerasingham. “I fundamentally believe that is what explains the success we have had in growing our business around the world.”

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