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Editor's Blog: why did the BBC spend £189,000 of our money on choosing a new Director General?

After an opaque, expensive process involving a slick HR head-hunting firm, Director of BBC Vision George Entwistle has been announced as the next Director General, taking over from Mark Thompson in the autumn. The devil, as ever, is in the detail.

Dan Hancox
4 July 2012

"A column of red, white and blue smoke is rising out of a chimney from the 6th floor."

Thus spake BBC TV Centre, a spoof Twitter account purporting to be the voice of the BBC, referring to the announcement half an hour ago of George Entwistle, former Newsnight Editor, currently Director of BBC Vision, as Mark Thompson's successor as Director General of the BBC. The comic comparison to the appointment of the new Pope, an arcane, ritualistic process to say the very least, is depressingly appropriate. Hushed whispers, insider dealings, secret meetings and red herrings to throw the commoners off the scent. So who are the papal conclave responsible for choosing George Entwistle? Officially, the Director General is chosen by the BBC Trust. Unofficially, he (and it is a 'he', again - the missed opportunity to appoint the first ever female DG is already drawing comment) is chosen by Chris Patten.

The danger of the media scrum that will form around Entwistle in the coming hours, days and weeks, is that in asking 'who is George?', 'what kind of DG will he be?', and 'is a £450,000 salary too much?' we will miss the details of the process, and how our money has been spent in choosing a man who was always a very obvious candidate, and is known to be well-liked by Chris Patten. Fortunately - perhaps following a pending ourBeeb FOI request on exactly this matter - the BBC Trust have decided to 'get in front of the story', and have answered our questions about the recruitment process. This was buried in the footnote of the press release announcing George Entwistle:

The Trust was assisted in the search for the Director-General by executive recruitment firm Egon Zehnder after a competitive process. The firm carried out an initial succession planning phase of work to identify the key elements required of any new Director-General should a vacancy arise in the future. This involved interviewing more than 30 people with an insight into the role. They used this information to help the Trust draw up a role specification. In the second phase of the exercise Egon Zehnder designed and managed the recruitment process on behalf of the BBC Trust. Egon Zehnder was paid a total of £157,500 plus VAT, covering both phases of the work.

Plus 20% VAT, that's £189,000. One hundred and eighty-nine thousand pounds of licence fee payers money was paid to slick head-hunting firm Egon Zehnder, and what have they done with it? Chosen a senior BBC executive from a small field comprised largely of senior BBC executives. Say what you like about the Vatican, at least they don't give vast sums of money from the donation plate to HR consultants.

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