BBC Director General: Frankenstein’s Monster Required

November 21, 2012

N.B. My personal views

The BBC is not an easy organisation to lead.

That’s because it is full of people like me: creative types, passionate, emotional, argumentative and obsessed with making their particular thing the very best it can be to the exclusion of all else. Not always rational.

This is a good thing. The day twenty BBC journalists go into a room, all love each other and have a big group hug is the day the BBC is dead. Creative competition drives up quality.

However this does mean that when the boss of the BBC says “jump!” an argument will immediately break out. Some will want to jump three feet, some two metres, some will not want to jump at all, some will start digging, some will ask “why?”

So you do need a machine to make things happen. The BBC is a machine, one that usually works well. The BBC is also a bunch of people running around making brilliant things.

And it may not be that important for the Director General to be loved by staff. Love is not enough. You need a clear sense of where you’re going. Inevitably not everyone will like it.

The perfect Director General would have the brain of John Birt and the heart of Greg Dyke. Unless some good natured descendant of Dr Frankenstein is cooking up something in a secret lab beneath the new Broadcasting House, such a creature does not exist.

So I agree with those who say that the BBC may need two people to run it: a Director General and a strong Deputy Director General.

But I disagree with the view that the DDG should be in charge of BBC News. This worked well under Mark Thompson and Mark Byford but seems backward looking, trying to solve yesterday’s problem rather than tommorow’s.

I think the real challenge to the BBC is in digital. So the BBC needs someone with a clear strategic vision for where the BBC is going to go in digital in the next ten years. And someone else who understands how digital is changing people’s behaviour and attitudes and how the BBC’s culture needs to change as a result. A big brained strategist who can create a machine to deliver that strategy alongside someone with superb people and social skills to make the argument, be comfortably with the arguing and bring BBC people with them. And having these two people working together could be a rather good symbol for a BBC where senior leaders cooperated with each other, rather than being in conflict.

The BBC may be hard to lead but not, I think, impossible. I hope that despite the latest crisis people are queuing up for the job.

I look forward to finding out who she or he will be.

For sure, it won’t be Big Bird.


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