BBC pays headhunters £350,000 to fill two top jobs – then gives both of them to its own man
By Miles Goslett
PUBLISHED: 22:55, 28 July 2012 | UPDATED: 16:46, 29 July 2012
The BBC paid a leading recruitment firm more than £300,000 to fill two senior posts – before promoting the same executive from within its own ranks both times.
In 15 months, international headhunting firm Egon Zehnder was paid £290,000 in fees plus £58,000 in VAT and £6,000 in expenses to find a new BBC director of vision and then a new director-general.
In the end, both jobs were given to George Entwistle, who has worked for the Corporation since 1989 and was among senior staff interviewed by the headhunters to identify the key skills the successful applicant would need.
The disclosure has angered MPs, who criticised the Corporation for spending large sums of licence-fee payers’ money on a recruitment process that twice produced an internal candidate already well known to BBC bosses.
Conservative MP Philip Davies said: ‘It seems a ludicrous amount to spend on recruiting someone already on the staff. You would think that an organisation like the BBC undertakes succession planning. If it has, and Entwistle was earmarked for these roles, then why spend so much on recruitment consultants?’
Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster added: ‘The BBC shortlisted many external candidates for these jobs but that said, many people will question why it spent that much in a time of austerity for the country.’
The disclosures from a Freedom of Information request show that between January and April 2011, Egon Zehnder was hired to search for a new director of vision, who is responsible for all the BBC’s television channels as well as its film-making arm. The company was paid £109,999.98 plus VAT.
When the BBC announced Mr Entwistle as the successful candidate on April 27, it said in a statement that an ‘extensive recruitment search’ had taken place.
However, Mr Entwistle had simply been promoted to the post from his previous executive roles of controller of knowledge commissioning and controller of editorial standards for BBC Vision.
Documents also show that Egon Zehnder was this month paid the final instalment of a £180,000 contract to find a new director-general. The firm was engaged in November 2011, after the announcement by Mark Thompson that he was stepping down, to begin the first phase of the process of replacing him.
BBC insiders said Egon Zehnder’s brief was to compile guidance for Corporation bosses on the qualities needed by a successful candidate for the high-profile post. While doing this, it is understood the company received advice from several senior BBC staff who applied for the post themselves, triggering claims of a conflict of interests.
About 30 current and former BBC employees were interviewed to identify the key skills the next director-general would need. They included the 12 members of the BBC Trust, the 13 members of the BBC executive board – including Mr Entwistle – and several former BBC directors-general and chairmen. The second phase of the process earned Egon Zehnder £120,000 plus VAT and £6,000 in expenses. In a move likely to have increased costs, different hotels in London were used for interviews to ‘respect the confidentiality of candidates’.
In total, the US-based company, which has offices around the world, has been paid almost £400,000 in recent years by the BBC and has become its preferred firm when senior roles become vacant.
In October 2010, it was paid £78,400 plus VAT and £1,468.91 in expenses to find a new digital media director.
The BBC Trust, which was responsible for appointing the new director-general, said: ‘Given that this is one of the biggest jobs both in global broadcasting and in British public life, it is hardly surprising that we asked experts to help us find the best possible candidate. That is in the best interests of audiences and the wider BBC and is standard practice.
‘Egon Zehnder is on the BBC’s list of approved suppliers, meaning it has already gone through a competitive tendering process. The Trust was not therefore required to consider other bids for the work, but decided to do so in order to ensure we were getting the best expertise at a fair price.’
Regarding the appointment costs of the directors of digital media and vision, a BBC spokesman said: ‘When recruiting for the BBC’s most senior jobs it is vital to cast the net as wide as possible.’
Mr Entwistle, who has worked as a producer on Panorama and Newsnight, succeeds Mr Thompson as director-general in September.