Lucinda Hicks, COO of newly merged Endemol Shine UK, has never made a programme in her life. But that hasn’t stopped her rapid rise, says Tara Conlan
The world of television production can, to quote Digital UK Chief Executive Jonathan Thompson, "sometimes be somewhat sniffy about strategy folk".
With this in mind, he says Lucinda Hicks' success in becoming Endemol Shine UK's Chief Operating Officer is doubly impressive.
He hired Hicks to work with his team at Channel 4 in 2008, when he was its Strategy Director.
But there was a surprise when she turned up for her first day – Thompson told her he was leaving. He says Hicks took it "on board in such a calm, professional and pleasant way that it made me begin to wish I could stick around a little longer to have the opportunity to work with her".
What was it about Hicks that made him hire her and has seen her rise to the top echelons of the UK wing of the newly merged mega-producer?
Thompson reckons she is "that rare and wonderful combination of a person who has great intelligence, ambition and determination to get things done, but always with warmth, humour and a strong sense of teamwork".
Speak to those who have worked with Hicks and the talk is of a "brilliant colleague" who is "collaborative", and who people have enjoyed working with.
One says: "She is really good at detail, efficient, smart and pleasant to work with. I've watched with interest her rise in the indie sector. It's good to see a young, female executive get to those kinds of positions."
Mark Raphael, who was Joint Managing Director with her at Dragonfly, says of Hicks: "Lucinda is almost annoying. She manages to be creative, wonderfully calm and fair-minded, while ensuring everyone is enjoying their work and having fun. You could say our professional time together has been very much one of ying and yang."
Hicks, who is 35, has a sharp business brain, having read economics and management at New College, Oxford. She was brought up in north-west London, not far from where she now lives with her husband, whom she married last year.
She started her career at Booz Allen, one of the oldest management consultancies in the world. Two years later, she joined the BBC as Business Strategist and remained there for a year before becoming a Strategy and Commercial Development Executive at Fremantle.
In 2006, she returned to consultancy, and spent two years at leadership advisers Panthea Leadership before Thompson recruited her as part of his strategy team at Channel 4.
Since then, she has not looked back. In 2010, she was hired by MasterChef maker Shine Group to launch a new global business development division as its vice-president – later adding operations to her responsibilities.
She manages to be creative, wonderfully calm and fair-minded, while ensuring everyone is enjoying their work and having fun
In 2013, Hicks was appointed COO of One Born Every Minuteproducer (and Shine company) Dragonfly, before being promoted to Joint Managing Director alongside Raphael.
Thompson thinks her greatest achievement has been to "make the transition from a strategy background into senior management in an operational role, which many, many strategists fail to do successfully."
Hicks acknowledges it has not been easy. "Coming up through the strategic and commercial route has given me a great context but is perhaps an advantage and a disadvantage," she says.
"Being joint MD of Dragonfly, having never made a programme myself, gave me a different lens through which to challenge and question things – sometimes those questions may have been basic but, largely, I think I was able to bring a different perspective."
Her background was not in media. Her father worked in the City and her mother was a secretary in a special needs school – although her sister has joined her in the creative industries, in publishing.
Hicks says that the main driving force for her move into television was simply that she loved watching it: "From Spooks to EastEnders, from Faking It to The Fast Show, I grew up loving TV and I still watch as much as I can.
"When I was travelling a lot around the Shine companies, I watched a lot of our international content as well, including a Shine Germany pilot show that had me in floods of tears on a train one day with my husband. I don't speak German and it wasn't subtitled but I got enough of the gist."
She explains that when she left management consultancy she "was determined to work in an industry where I cared about the output".
"The vast majority of people watch TV to some degree and, love it or hate it, they all have an opinion on what they watch," she adds. "At its best, television has the power to move people, to open people's minds and to provoke debate and discussion. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that?"
Her job is clearly all-encompassing but, when she can spare the time, Hicks likes "getting outside at the weekends – I am a mad-keen skier, play a bit of tennis and try to escape to Devon for the odd weekend (where my mother now lives) for long walks and even some fair weather surfing".
Elisabeth Murdoch and Alex Mahon, who were her bosses at Shine when she joined, were both big inspirations for her. She credits them for giving her "the self-confidence and opportunities to really stretch myself".
Despite her rapid rise, Hicks has kept a fairly low profile, getting on with the day job and not seeking the limelight. She was picked as one of four Next Generation Leaders to speak at the 2013 RTS Cambridge Convention.
The collaborative way of working that her former and current colleagues talk about is reflected when she says: "To me, great leadership is not just about real talent but about having the ability to inspire those around you and enable them to thrive. That is what drives loyalty and respect."
So that is presumably what the UK division of Endemol Shine – cheekily dubbed Shendemol by RTS President Peter Bazalgette – can expect when she takes up the new job this month.
Gluing together the separate entities following a merger is rarely easy.
Apart from the production company heads, she will be the most senior person from the Shine side of the business in the UK division, where she will work with CEO Richard Johnston (the former Endemol UK COO) and another Endemoler, Chairman Lucas Church.
The companies in the division include Artists Studio, Brown Eyed Boy, Dragonfly, DSP, Fifty Fathoms, House of Tomorrow, Initial, Kudos, Lovely Day, Princess Productions, Remarkable Television, Shine North, Shine Soho, Shine TV, Tiger Aspect, Tigress and Zeppotron. Their hits range from Broadchurch to Big Brother and The Fall to Pointless.
With her feet not yet under the table, it is too soon for Hicks to have much of an idea about what the future holds, but she says that the new group "has some incredible talent, both in the UK and internationally, and it has a formidable leadership team in the form of Sophie [Turner Laing] and Tim [Hincks]. I feel really excited about being a part of it."
She adds: "There is obviously a lot happening, at least in the UK, in 2015 with the public service broadcasting review, a lot of the consolidation from late 2014 shaking out – and, inevitably, more to come.
"It's a fascinating and dynamic time to be part of one of the greatest creative markets in the world. But, as producers, above all else, we need to remain focused on doing what we do best: making world-class content."
Spoken like a programme-maker, not a strategist.