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BBC hires headhunting firm to find Mark Thompson's successorChairman of BBC Trust, Lord Patten, starts process to find a replacement director general but there is no 'imminent vacancy'
guardian.co.uk, Monday 23 January 2012 11.31 GMT Article history
There has been speculation Thompson, who has been director general since June 2004, will leave after the London Olympics in August. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire/Press Association Images
The BBC has hired a headhunting firm to develop the "initial stages" of a succession plan for Mark Thompson, beginning the process of finding a replacement for the long-serving director general although there is as yet no job vacancy.
Lord Patten, the chairman of the BBC Trust, told Monday's Times that he has appointed headhunters Egon Zehnder to identify the scope and remit of the director general role that will be filled by Thompson's successor.
However, the BBC Trust said the appointment of Egon Zehnder, which were used by the government for the recruitment process that led to the appointment of Patten to take over from Sir Michael Lyons as trust chairman, "does not signal any imminent vacancy".
There has been speculation Thompson, who has been director general since June 2004, will leave after the London Olympics in August and that the BBC will make an announcement confirming this before the Games start in late July.
Patten said the aim of bringing an executive search company in at such an early stage is to produce a report on "what sort of people we should be looking for" to handle the role – "they are not seeking a candidate".
"As the chairman [Patten] has repeatedly said, Mark Thompson does an excellent job as director general and we hope the post does not become vacant any time soon," said a spokesman for the BBC Trust. "Mark Thompson is aware of and supports this exercise."
Patten has made it clear that whoever ultimately takes over from Thompson should expect to take a substantial cut in the current £670,000 salary attached to the director general position.
A spokesman for the BBC said the exercise was a "sensible" step to take but would not elaborate on any timeline for Thompson's departure.
"As has been made clear, this is sensible succession planning, which Mark fully supports," said the spokesman. "It does not mean there is a vacancy."
Confirming a departure date for Thompson after the Olympics would mark the end of a tumultuous period for the BBC under his leadership.
He played a central role in securing the 2010 BBC licence fee deal with the government, which has been criticised in some quarters because of the hasty way it was negotiated and the funding freeze imposed on the corporation. However, Thompson has maintained it will come to be seen as a good deal for the BBC.
Thompson has also overseen the Delivering Quality First process to identify the £700m in cuts required by the 16% real terms cut in BBC funding that resulted from the licence fee settlement, the move to Salford, the sale of Television Centre and redevelopment of Broadcasting House.
Patten gave some clues as to the type of candidate that he is likely to consider for the role, when the time comes.
"It requires renaissance talents," he told the Times. "It's a big management job, it's an editorial job, it's a creative job and it's an important part of our national culture. When the time comes some people will crawl over broken glass to get the chance of doing it".
The list of potential internal candidates to replace Thompson includes George Entwistle, director of BBC Vision; director of news Helen Boaden; chief operating officer Caroline Thomson; and Peter Salmon, director of BBC North.
External candidates could include David Abraham, chief executive of Channel 4; one of his predecessors, Michael Jackson; and Peter Fincham, director of television at ITV and a former BBC1 controller.
Others seen as possible contenders include Sky's head of entertainment, broadcast operations and news, Sophie Turner-Laing; Channel 4's chief creative officer, Jay Hunt; and former Channel 5 chairman and chief executive Dawn Airey.