Michelle Guthrie ABC
Image credit: Peter Rae/AAP.

What’s in a job? The position of ABC managing director is one of the most demanding in the country, requiring a broadcasting executive with a head for digital and internet distribution, an independent leader with a canny sense of politics, a strong manager capable of bringing thousands of grumpy staff with them, a strategic visionary who can sweat the small stuff when turmoil hits the broadcaster — as it always does. So to make life easier for the firm that will be recruiting a replacement for Michelle Guthrie, we’ve drawn up an honest selection criteria for what is one of the most important public service roles in the Commonwealth.


 Selection Criteria

(Please note it is not necessary to address the capabilities and behaviours individually).


  1. Shape Strategic Thinking


Inspires a sense of purpose and direction

  • Capable of devising a strategic direction for a national broadcasting and digital company operating nationally owned by 25 million shareholders with a volatile funding base and constant external reviews and communicating that strategy to all stakeholders.


Strategic focus

  • Ensuring the output of approximately 180,000 hours of high-quality content a year while managing and anticipating the impacts of digitisation and online delivery that other media companies have signally failed to deal with.


Shows judgement, intelligence and common sense

  • After a day spent waiting for a Senate estimates hearing, be capable at 10.45 at night of graciously responding to a point-scoring senator accusing you of a variety of major crimes and then explaining to another who doesn’t understand the laws of physics why it is impossible to establish a new radio service in an area when there is no spectrum available.
  1. Achieves Results


Organisational capability

  • Demonstrated ability to run a company with 4000 staff, $1 billion per annum budget and $1 billion worth of assets across scores of locations around the country with the expectation from key stakeholders that you are personally responsible for everything that happens within the company.


Professional expertise

  • Experience as high-level editor of major national journalistic outlet, manager of radio and/or television broadcaster, executive of digital content creation and distribution platform, drama/light entertainment commissioning executive, chief liaison with key stakeholders, financial and strategic planning expertise (five out of six acceptable).


Implements change

  • Capable of handling unexpected and significant revenue reductions inflicted out of political vindictiveness.
  • Communicates effectively with a board whose members have virtually no experience in broadcasting or media.


Ability to clarify ambiguities

  • Able to respond effectively to deliberate misrepresentations and/or blatant lies about you and the ABC by key stakeholders including those deciding your funding and operational environment.
  • Able to implement a nebulous and deliberately vague charter intended to ensure that the ABC has wide scope to be simultaneously criticised both for chasing ratings and being out of touch with audiences.


  1. Cultivate Productive Working Relationships


Nurtures internal and external relationships

  • Demonstrated ability to communicate effectively with over 4000 staff spread across the country, 80% of whom will at any one time strongly believe they can do a far better job than you.
  • Demonstrated ability to liaise effectively with external stakeholders who don’t believe you should even exist or are convinced you are part of a left-wing/right-wing conspiracy/deliberately shafting their home state.


Facilitates co-operation and partnerships

  • Oversee the development of journalistic partnerships with organisations that campaign relentlessly against you and partnerships with independent production houses who are convinced you are a monstrous industry behemoth taking the bread from their children’s mouths.


Values differences and diversity

  • Understand that the slightest infraction of complex rules of identity politics anywhere across 180,000 hours of content a year will engender a firestorm of social media outrage and calls for sackings
  • Understand that any effort to recognise the actual diversity of the Australian community as a complex mix of cultures, identities and changing perceptions of the social norms around those will be lambasted as “political correctness gone mad”, “their ABC” and anti-white racism.


  1. Communicates with influence


Communicates clearly

  • Demonstrated ability to convince key internal stakeholders and consumers that funding cuts to their areas are not “dumbing down” or “politically motivated”.


Listens, understands and adapts to different audiences

  • Can switch seamlessly from enduring hectoring from a politician opposed to your existence to enduring hectoring from a minister who doesn’t like the facts your journalist reported to hectoring from a competitor’s columnist who thinks you’re guilty of genocide to enduring hectoring from audiences about why you cut a program to enduring hectoring from your own staff.
  • Understands that staff leaking of confidential information is a widespread and formalised process of communication in relation to the ABC.
  • Understand that a lobby group whose entire ostensible rationale is supporting you will in fact be your harshest critic.


Negotiates persuasively

  • Demonstrated capacity to convince a government that believes your entire raison d’etre is fundamentally flawed and that you are determined to undermine it at every step with biased journalism, culture wars and withdrawal of services to stop cutting your funding.