Charles Allen FCMA Chief executive, ITV.

Position:ITV PLC - Interview

After 15 years at ITV, you announced your departure in August. High-profile handovers are a hot topic right now. How does a leader know when it's time to go?

This job is like politics: it's all played out in public and everyone knows how to do your job better than you do. The CEO's role is to take the flak when things go wrong and to stand aside and let the praise go to those who did the work when things go right. When I moved from being a shield to a lightning rod, I decided it was time to step aside.

I'm 49 and I always knew I wanted to do something else in my fifties, yet I'll miss ITV terribly. From this month I'll be playing a support role until I leave in January. It's crucial to ensure a smooth handover and retain momentum, because everyone wonders what will happen next when someone leaves, which can paralyse an organisation.

In a recent speech you described yourself as "the archetypal TV suit".

Last week someone said to me: "You're a media doyen." I thought: fantastic--I've waited ten years to be called this. The recurring criticism of me has been that I'm an accountant, not a creative. When I joined Granada, John Cleese wrote to Gerry Robinson calling us a pair of caterers. But all of this is just media fluff. I've worked in huge range of sectors, from steel to hotels to ten-pin bowling. I'm a business person, not a hotelier or a media person. What I enjoy is building business. I like to question received wisdom and I'm highly tenacious. But I'm not a good maintenance manager.

Creating a united ITV must have been highly satisfying for you, then.

It was a huge task involving two acts of Parliament and seven major mergers in ten years. It had to be done: the old federal structure was dysfunctional because it meant that the business could move only at the speed of the slowest unit.

It started when Gerry Robinson sent me into Granada with instructions to turn it round or sell it. I turned it round then started on consolidation, starting with a hostile bid for LWT. We ended up one of three major groups: Carlton, Granada and United. I then woke up one morning to the news that the other two were planning to merge. This was my worst nightmare, because the deal would give them 60 per cent of the industry. But we argued that it would be anti-competitive if they went ahead, but not if we merged with United. That was a great moment. The final piece of the jigsaw was the merger between Granada and Carlton that created a single ITV in 2004.


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