When Desmond bought into national newspapers almost a decade ago he was treated as an outsider whose star would quickly wane. He was most definitely not part of the "newspaper club".
Media commentator and former Daily Mirror editor Roy Greenslade recently called Desmond the "worst newspaper publisher in 60 years", citing a devaluation of the Express brand and lack of investment that Greenslade says has hastened the decline of the once-iconic daily and Sunday newspapers.
It's true the Express' diet of weather, property prices and Princess Diana is not everyone's taste, and the masthead's claim that it is the "World's Greatest Newspaper" will not find many converts within or without Northcliffe House.
But there are others who, on the quiet, profess grudging admiration for the way Desmond and his long-standing associate Stan Myerson (profiled on page 14) make solid pretax profits out of print in these challenging times - £52m in 2007.
They struggle circulation-wise, but the papers bring in ready cash to Northern & Shell. And Desmond and co aren't afraid to invest when they see potential profit.
They took on Hello! in the UK and overhauled it against the odds. They had a crack at the Mail with the Express, did less well and pulled in their horns.
The group invested $100m in OK! in the US in another venture that had the sceptics predicting inevitable failure. But the magazine now breaks even, selling a million copies a week and making profit on certain issues. It looks set to start recouping the investment and prove the doubters wrong again.
Desmond and Northern & Shell will never be everyone's cup of tea. But the ruthless devotion to profit and scaling a business up or down according to circumstances is hard to argue with.
Desmond has always had a liking for the Mirror and some think he may one day mount a bid to take over the struggling paper. The regulators would have something to say about it, but that would really put the cat among the pigeons - and who's to say Desmond and crew wouldn't confound the critics and pull it off once again.
- Steve Barrett is editor of Media Week, email@example.com, www.mediaweek.co.uk/stevebarrettblog.
This article was first published on Media Week