Coming soon on ITV…

October 12, 2009

Who needs a chief executive officer? Well, Lazard perhaps, when it’s Bruce Wasserstein (which is why his serious illness is also serious for the shareholders) but not ITV, it seems. On Monday, when its leadership saga had a better plotline than Corrie, the shares went up.

Perhaps it was the thought of all the money saved from that empty c-suite, or perhaps it was renewed hope for the end of Michael Grade’s disastrous tenure as executive chairman, or perhaps it was the upGrade (sorry) from Goldman Sachs, but the shares joined in the general stock market fun and rose to their best for three weeks.

The golden boys “had concerns going into the CEO announcement and Contract Rights Renewal decision. Neither announcement fulfilled our upside scenario” – whatever that means – “but they were consistent with our base-case assumptions.” They now reckon the shares are worth 58 pence, against Monday morning’s 46 pence, because advertising revenues at Britain’s leading free-to-air commercial channel are starting to rise after last year’s plunge.

This is surely the point.  ITV has a Golden Shot at puncturing the myth that without a powerful ceo, a business just can’t function. Michael Bishop was offered the job of (non-executive) chairman, and the result of his due diligence  was enough for him to run away.  Chief operating officer John Cresswell likes acting above his pay grade so much that he’s promised to resign as soon as a new chief executive can be found.

Given the disfunctional ITV board, Cresswell could find himself acting for quite a while. Perhaps in atonement for their sins, all the directors should be forced to make a special edition of I’m An Executive, Get Me out Of Here.

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Since shareholders’ satisfaction is said to be a key in this unfortunate episode, it seems ironic that they now appear satisfied to accept John Cresswell as interim CEO. From what we understand, Cresswell was passed over for the job originally. Understandably, he has now had enough and has announced his departure. ITV’s success in putting this damaging period behind it depends on someone dispassionate and detached from recent events. Someone who can quickly pull the board and shareholders back towards their common purpose of running ITV for profit as the market upturns. An external, professional interim chief executive is arguably what ITV needs right now.

Nick Diprose
Executive Director
BIE Interim Executive Ltd
22 Queen Anne’s Gate
London SW1H 9AA