OPINION: Bankers have their place - but it surely isn't at ITV's top table

Before the week is out Sir Peter Burt, former chief executive of Bank of Scotland, could be the first chairman of ITV plc.

There is a chance that the other name on the shortlist, John Gardiner, chairman of Tesco, could make it. But the fact that Charles Allen, chief executive of ITV, is a non-executive director of the supermarket chain will surely count against Gardiner. The two know each other and have worked together. This link might upset the silent assassins in the City.

If Sir Peter gets the nod, it will be the purest kind of corporate appointment. A member of the High Constables and Guard of Honour of Holyrood House in Edinburgh, he appears to be completely untainted by any experience of the media. He has worked at the Bank of Scotland since 1975. Tesco is at least a little closer to the world of television and Gardiner has worked on the Lex column of the Financial Times.

There is no reason why a banker or the chairman of a supermarket chain cannot be a perfectly sensible choice to head a commercial broadcaster.

A large part of the ITV role will involve representing the company to the City, the government and regulators. The chairman does not have to be a fan of Coronation Street, although it would help to have heard of it.

It's just that there have been a few odd decisions lately. Staff at Channel 4 are still rubbing their eyes in disbelief at the arrival of Luke Johnson as their chairman. Johnson, an investor and restaurateur, would never have dreamed of applying for the job until he was approached. We will see whether Ofcom's first big appointment decision turns out to be a wise one.

For ITV, the question is whether Michael Green, for all his foibles, would have made a better chairman than either Sir Peter or Gardiner. Do experience and flair matter in the media? So far, the structure put together by Green and Allen seems to be doing rather well. Even without the benefit of a chairman, TV shares have risen rather nicely this month, on the back of hopes that the advertising recession is nearly over at last.

Surely there should be a trace of flair and creativity at the top of a media company, although as with ITV Digital one can sometimes have a touch too much. But would Sky exist today if there had been a banker in the chair?

Meanwhile Green remains a player and has no intention of going away to enjoy his millions. It is revealing that he has not only set up an office in Mayfair, but has also hired his former finance director at Carlton, Paul Murray. That amounts to the clearest evidence of serious intent.

The first significant moves could come later this year. The ultimate daydream would see Green taking over ITV on behalf of an even more serious player, such as Haim Saban, and installing himself as chairman. ITV's soaring share price and weakness of the dollar all but rule out such a soap opera ending. But Green could stage a comeback dramatic enough to make the silent assassins wonder whether they were right to prefer City grandees to media scrappers.


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