‘In Conversation With’ ITV CEO Carolyn McCall: “If I don’t take a risk now, I never will”

Posted 11 December 2019

ITV CEO Carolyn McCall joined BBC Editorial Director Kamal Ahmed for the last in the series of Media Trust’s ‘In Conversation With’ for 2019.

Carolyn McCall’s CV is one of most impressive of any CEO in British industry. Having led the Guardian Media Group, followed by eight successful year’s transforming budget airline easyJet, she made history when she took up the top job at ITV in 2018 as their first female CEO.

But that’s not how Carolyn wants to be known: “I would rather be known as a successful CEO, than a successful female CEO’ she told the BBC’s Kamal Ahmed at Media Trust’s ‘In Conversation With’ event last week. Our series see’s global media, technology visionaries and industry disruptors take the hot seat.


Kamal started by asking Carolyn about joining the Guardian Media Group: “I realised in the first few weeks at the Guardian that I wanted to be there for a long time” she said.  Carolyn credited the flat culture as well as the presence of a senior female role model as creating a solid environment for learning and development. She also emphasised the value of having a mentor: “As you get more senior, mentoring becomes even more important. A mentor will tell it to you as it is, as they’re not working for you.”

The Guardian saw the internet coming before anyone did

Disruption and Innovation at the Guardian

Carolyn spoke of being surrounded by innovators: “The Guardian saw the internet coming before anyone did.” Under Carolyn’s leadership, the company underwent a number of ground-breaking changes including a re-design and the launch of Guardian Unlimited which is now theguardian.com.

Taking a Risk

When Carolyn was offered the role at easyJet she had three children under two, having just had twins. At the time the airline was suffering from a slumped share price, a lack of direction and an unshakable reputation for delays. So, what made her take the job? “Everyone gets to a point in their career when they think, if I don’t take a risk now, I never will” she said.

Carolyn was the only candidate that asked to speak to the company’s Operations Director to find out what the three key things were that needed to change and then she thought “I can do that.”

Carolyn became CEO of easyJet in 2010

Female role model

Kamal asked Carolyn how she felt being seen as a female role model: “I’m acutely aware that being a female CEO is an important thing for other women and I’m really happy that I can be that for some people” she said. But Carolyn stressed that she didn’t want gender to come in to play when she was being judged on her business capabilities: “Every interview I ever did, at easyJet in particular, they’d always ask: ‘how do you do it?’, I said: ‘Do you ask Michael O’Leary that?’ I have no problem talking to female audiences who are coming up the ladder about ‘how I do it’, that’s very different to when you’re being asked about your business and they suddenly ask you how you manage your life. Because they don’t ask male CEO’s that.”


I said: ‘Do you ask Michael O’Leary that?’

By the time Carolyn had left easyJet in 2017, the airlines share price had quadrupled, passenger numbers were at a record high and Carolyn had been awarded a Damehood and decorated with France’s highest award in recognition of her contribution to the economy and for her support of women, particularly female pilots.

Carolyn’s vision for ITV

Carolyn took to the helm of ITV in January 2018. She believes one of the media company’s biggest challenges is the pace of change: “The world is changing so quickly and dynamically… any strategy has to be very nimble.”

Diversity is also high on her agenda and Carolyn chairs ITV’s Inclusion and Diversity Counsel: “I think it’s about making sure all organisations have leadership teams that have objectives on inclusion and diversity.”

She continued: “We need to focus as much on inclusion and culture as much as we do on diversity. If you’re not an inclusive environment and it doesn’t feel like a great place to work, you’re not going to retain people.”

The conversation closed with Carolyn sharing ITV’s ‘More than TV’ strategy: “More than TV is about ITV repositioning to be a digital and viewer led media and entertainment company. We want to get our content to people however they want it, whenever they want it.”

You can find out more about Media Trust’s ‘In Conversation With’ series here.

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