‘TV is a place where national conversations start’
Dame Carolyn Mccall was CEO of Easyjet before taking on the leadership of ITV in 2017. She is married with three teenage children.
was born in India and lived there until I was 15, when we moved to Singapore. As a result, I became adaptable, very used to change and curious about different cultures and experiences. Now, home is anywhere, as long as I have the people I care about near me.
I didn’t have a career plan. After university I got a job at The Guardian as a researcher and climbed through the ranks. I had just become CEO when I had my first child. The then deputy editor, Georgina Henry, said, ‘You are the first senior woman to have a baby in this company. You have to take maternity leave to show others they can take it, too.’
It was great advice. I did it, but I was available on the end of the phone and people even came to work at my house with me. I worried that others would think I wasn’t interested any more. Having a baby is a big thing at any level, but when you’re running a company, everyone is watching. Less than two years later, I was pregnant with twins. I had a major panic, telling my mum I’d need to quit. She said, ‘This period is a blink of an eye in your life. It’ll be difficult, but as long as you’re happy and manage it properly, you’ll be fine.’ She was absolutely right, but it was a stretch.
Leaving The Guardian felt like a huge risk. I’d gone from the most junior person you could be to running it. My first six months as Easyjet’s CEO were challenging. BA boss Willie Walsh said to me, laughing, ‘You had more in six months than most airline CEOS do in six years, but it’ll stand you well,’ although you don’t see that through the haze of volcanic ash clouds, oil price hikes, French air traffic control strikes and customer complaints! But it escalated my learning curve. During my time there, the share price almost quadrupled.
I loved working at Easyjet and I was there for nearly eight years – a long tenure for a CEO. When I got the ITV phone call inviting me for an informal conversation, it was serendipity. ITV is an amazingly strong consumer brand and it’s a great leveller –
everyone loves ITV, whether they’re young or old, affluent or not. The challenge also appealed; I wouldn’t have moved on if there was no agenda for change. TV is a big part of Christmas and we plan for it extensively. There’ll be big soap storylines on Coronation Street and Emmerdale, as well as Christmas specials of For The Love Of Dogs with Paul O’grady and Long Lost Family. I absolutely love Dancing On Ice and we have a drama about Torvill and Dean’s early years – my one to watch over Christmas. I also love Christmas ads! The TV or music is always on during our family
Christmas. My favourite way to spend the festive season is with my husband and children – just the five of us – and that’s how it’ll be this year. It’s very relaxed.
In January, I’ll have been at ITV for a year. It’s hugely stimulating, the people are fantastic and our viewing figures in 2018 have been the strongest in nearly a decade. We have momentum and there’s lots to do.
We’re focused on three big things. The first is investing in TV, especially the ITV Hub. We’re improving the experience so we can recommend programmes to viewers and recognise what’s liked the most. The second is to grow ITV Studios, where we make lots of our drama and entertainment programmes. The third is to create deeper, more engaged relationships with the fans of our key shows. Part of that is a streaming service, which we are aiming to launch in 2019, that will contain a lot of our current and past programmes. Because ITV entertains millions of people and often starts national conversations, it has a real emotional connection with the public. It also shapes British society and culture and we take that responsibility very seriously.
The biggest leadership lesson I’ve learnt is that your leadership style is you. There are different types of leader and they can all be effective, but don’t try to be someone else. Find your own way.
The TV is always on during our family Christmas
Carolyn loves to watch TV with her family over Christmas