The appointment of the man who built up brands such as Batchelors Supernoodles and Olivio margarine as the new head of Channel 4 took the television industry by surprise yesterday. But many media experts hailed Andy Duncan's appointment as the station's new chief executive as an inspired choice.
Mr Duncan, who made his name at Unilever, the food and consumer goods company, has spent three years at the BBC, as director of marketing and communications. He has overseen the launch of the BBC's portfolio of digital television and radio services. Even more importantly, he has defied cynics and ensured that Freeview set-top boxes were in four million homes within 20 months of the launch of the free-to-air digital terrestrial platform.
Mr Duncan, 41, who was known at the BBC by the nickname The Implementer, because of his can-do attitude, is famous for his informal style, never wearing suits and turning up for work in jeans, trainers and skater T-shirts. Greg Dyke, who brought him to the BBC, yesterday described Mr Duncan as "one of the best appointments I made" and a "great leader of people". Mr Dyke said: "He is remarkable at getting people on side. He took what he learnt at Unilever and applied it to the BBC brilliantly."
The appointment of a marketing executive to the top job at Channel 4 was seen as being much the choice of the station's new chairman, Luke Johnson, the former head of PizzaExpress, whose own arrival at the channel at the start of this year also caused surprise.
Mr Johnson said Mr Duncan was the "brightest media executive of the Channel 4 generation" and had acquired an unrivalled knowledge of digital media that would help the station retain its identity in a changing television landscape. "Having a brand specialist like Andy at the helm will offer us a competitive advantage in such a noisy and over-crowded marketplace," he said.
But one former C4 executive said Mr Duncan was making "a very big leap" and that "no one will know him at Channel 4". He questioned how Mr Duncan might react when faced with a row over a controversial programme. One source at the channel said the appointment would "raise eyebrows" in the programme-making community, given the broadcasting backgrounds of the previous four chief executives, Jeremy Isaacs, Michael Grade, Michael Jackson and Mark Thompson.
Peter Bazalgette, chairman of Endemol UK, who recently stepped down from the C4 board, said he was not surprised at Mr Duncan's appointment, and he was "a very shrewd and safe pair of hands" to take the channel beyond the switch-off of analogue television.
Niall Fitzgerald, the chairman of Unilever, said: "Andy is highly creative but also driven to get results. He's good with people, he leads teams well and he has a very open and informal style. Andy's departure from Unilever was regretted but amicable, because he showed a real passion for entering the world of television."
Mr Duncan also writes a regular column in Television magazine, in which he talks of the latest BBC campaigns, his love for The Smiths and playing "five-a-side footie with the lads from my local church".
He is a committed Christian, but he has no qualms about taking a role once derided as Channel 4 "pornographer-in-chief". He said he was "very proud" to be made chief executive of a "vibrant and vital cultural institution".
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