Dame Carolyn McCall was yesterday named as the new chief executive of ITV
Her battle against mocking male rivals, obstreperous shareholders and a sceptical establishment to become Queen of the FTSE wouldn’t be a bad subject for a small-screen drama.
But Dame Carolyn McCall, who was yesterday named as chief executive of ITV, has done it all for real.
She will arrive at the broadcaster, replacing Adam Crozier, from low-cost airline EasyJet, where she has ruled the cockpit for seven years.
Her appointment to one of the most important jobs in TV, coinciding as it does with the unveiling of the first female Doctor Who, is either a triumph for equality or an outrageous assault on the natural order of male supremacy, depending on your viewpoint.
McCall would prefer not to discuss gender politics. She would like to be seen as just a boss, not a female boss.
But she is realistic enough to acknowledge that as one of only a handful of female chief executives, her secrets for balancing family life with the corner office are bound to be viewed with fascination by other working women who wonder how on earth she does it.
A mother of three teenagers – a boy and boy-girl twins – she says she manages to survive her brutal 14 hour days by taking moments to reflect. She is also ferociously well-organised.
‘It’s a marathon. You need stamina. You need to take moments for family, exercise, sport, film, travel. I always prepare as much as I can, because that makes me confident. I don’t think that’s gender specific,’ she told the Mail recently.
‘I have always been very organised but now I am hyper-organised as a result of having a family.’
With her arrival at the broadcaster, McCall becomes the second woman to lead a major TV network after Alex Mahon was made Channel 4 boss last month.
HOW TO GET TO THE TOP LIKE CAROLYN
- Be prepared Dame Carolyn McCall is renowned for her organisation and preparation for any meeting. ‘That’s what makes me confident,’ she says.
- Do what you love McCall works 14-hour days and travels extensively for work. She never takes a job she isn’t passionate about to make it all worthwhile.
- Always keep your phone on Getting to the top is relentless, and McCall never goes anywhere without her mobile phone. Sleeping, on holiday, you never know when you may be needed.
- Don’t have an office At EasyJet, and at The Guardian, she worked on the floor with all her staff keeping her in touch with what was going on.
- Take time-outs To get through the day and avoid burn-out, McCall grabs a few minutes of personal time to have a break from work such as calling her children.
But McCall’s flight-path to the top has not been smooth.
Her appointment as boss of EasyJet in 2010 was greeted with incredulity by some, ostensibly because of her lack of aviation experience.
At a dinner she attended shortly after she was hired, a male speaker made a quip about ‘doors-to-manual, Carolyn’ from the stage.
Few would be brave enough to risk making an air-hostess joke these days. ‘I don’t experience sexism and if I did, I wouldn’t tolerate it for a minute,’ she said.
Dismissed as a ‘media luvvie’ by Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary when she arrived, she restored staff morale, delivered four successive years of record profits, and piloted EasyJet into the FTSE 100 index.
She received her damehood last year for services to the aviation industry and a Legion d’honneur from the French.
She also survived tussles with EasyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, including over her pay.
Some might think the quarrelsome Cypriot tycoon had a point. Although her pay fell to £1.5 million in 2016, from £6.2 million the previous year, she has earned around £30 million since she joined in 2010.
At ITV, she will receive ‘broadly the same’ as Crozier.
Her package – which could be worth up to £5 million – includes £900,000 basic pay and a performance-linked share incentive scheme of up to 265 per cent of salary, plus a bonus of up to 180 per cent of salary.
She will receive a golden hello of around £3 million to compensate her for share awards that she is giving up at EasyJet.
She believes, however, that most working women still earn less than men.
‘The pay gap is unacceptable after 45 years of equal pay legislation,’ she has said.
McCall’s flight-path to the top has not been smooth. Her appointment as boss of EasyJet in 2010 was greeted with incredulity by some, ostensibly because of her lack of aviation experience
Personable, calm and friendly, she was born in Bangalore, India, and was educated in India and Singapore, followed by a Catholic boarding school in the UK.
She studied history and politics at the University of Kent and began training as a teacher, but a life at the chalk-face had limited appeal. She took a Masters in Politics from London University and soon joined The Guardian newspaper on the commercial side, where she began making her name in advertising sales.
That Left-wing and notoriously loss-making, uncommercial institution seems an unlikely incubator for one of the most formidable operators on the FTSE 100.
But McCall, guided by her mentor, Caroline Marland, Fleet Street’s first female advertising director, soon had the cash-registers ringing. The two transformed The Guardian from an advertising desert to a magnet for classifieds through special sections for media, education and the like.
McCall, who lives with husband Peter Frawley, an entrepreneur, in Hertfordshire, eventually became chief executive of Guardian Media Group while bringing up her children. In her later days at the firm, she came under fire for her own generous pay whilst staffers were forced to don hair shirts.
There were accusations of hypocrisy when Guardian Media Group used an offshore structure to buy businesses from Emap, in partnership with a private equity firm.
Her reign coincided with some decisions that turned out to be disastrous, including spending £80 million on printing presses when the paper moved to the Berliner format.
None of this did her any harm, and nor did a slump in shares and profits last year at EasyJet when she complained Brexit and the falling pound had cost her £40 million, though the stock market value has since revived.
Heavens, she even survived winning Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year in 2008, an accolade that has felled several others.
Her track record in media and advertising, coupled with her genius for sales, should stand her in good stead at ITV. The City will be tuning in when she arrives in January to see the next instalment in the Carolyn McCall saga.