By Kate Holton
LONDON (Reuters) - The softly-spoken head of the Risk division at Reed Elsevier does not wish to thank the U.S. online fraudsters who have helped drive his unit's growth, but his investors may not be so bashful.
Mark Kelsey's Risk and Business Information division has been one of the stand out performers for Europe's largest media company in recent years, with its technology helping U.S. state governments and firms to spot and prevent online fraud.
Kelsey, who joined Reed 32 years ago this week, said he expected the unit's around 6 percent growth to continue through the next few years, and potentially improve as it expands.
"Identity theft is a major, major problem," Kelsey said in an interview in the firm's central London office.
"There are more and more online services facilitating online payments and ... there are also very smart and very tech savvy criminals."
With a history dating back to 1880, the Anglo-Dutch Reed Elsevier has been transformed in recent years, ditching media assets that were dependent on volatile advertising and refocusing on data analytics and technology. It is in the process of changing its name to Relx.
Much of that change took place at the Business Information unit, which Kelsey turned around with the sale of hundreds of magazines, before taking on and combining the Risk unit as well. The enlarged division accounted for 25 percent of group revenue and 29 percent of adjusted operating profit last year.
Having seen a leap in demand for its online fraud products in the last couple of years, Kelsey is now turning his attention to a roll out of its operations in China and is also eyeing options in Brazil and India.
Kelsey says Reed investors, who have seen the overall stock rise 140 percent in nearly three years, could see the benefits of the new international expansion in about five years.
With an adjusted operating margin for the division of 35.2 percent, Kelsey said he could now reinvest additional cash into its new products and he is also looking for acquisitions.
Although he does not like to look ahead more than two or three years, he says he could perhaps spend another six years running the division and is "not sure" whether he would one day like the top Reed Elsevier CEO role.
"We were in crisis, the profit came down 40 percent," he said of his time trying to stabilize the Business Information part of his division. "So it's very satisfying to see it doing so well now."
(Editing by Mark Potter)