Who is Hamish McLennan?
He’s known as Hamish The Hammer and former colleagues suggest he’s a ‘clinical henchman’, but can Ten’s new CEO Hamish McLennan walk the walk or is it all talk? Marcus Casey finds out in a feature that first appeared in Encore.
He’s a good friend of Lachlan Murdoch and has spent the past year working side by side with his dad – the media mogul Rupert – but newly appointed Network Ten CEO Hamish McLennan insists he is his own man.
Ten chairman Lachlan Murdoch oversaw McLennan’s appointment last Friday, when former golden boy James Warburton was unceremoniously pushed from his job after just 13 months. He had ambitiously left the leading Seven network to helm the third-rating Ten.
With Warburton gone, the young Murdoch announced former adman McLennan, 46, as the new captain of the listless ship that Ten has become.
McLennan immediately signalled he would steer a new course, and focus on the 18 to 49-year-old demographic – and older – with less focus on the 16 to 39-year-old age bracket Ten pioneered and has plundered for more than a decade. And he backed that by investing more than $900,000 of his own money to buy 3.13m shares in the company this week. “It has all happened in a relatively short period of time,” McLennan told Encore. “But I would not have taken the job if I didn’t believe there is a great opportunity here. I think it’s the best media opportunity in Australia right now, and I have put my skin in the game to show that.
“I believe things have been done wrongly here, but we can turn it around. It’s just coincidental that Lachlan and I have long had a direct relationship and that I’ve spent the past year working for News Corporation.”
McLennan starts on March 18, and has been in the country for several days, but returned to his current post at News Corp this week where for the past 12 months he has been special advisor to Rupert Murdoch – who had a hand in founding Ten.
Eyebrows were raised by McLennan’s appointment to Ten given he has no record in programming or television apart from his brief stint at News Corp.
But the Sydney-raised former global chairman and CEO of agency Y&R – which he left to join News Corp – said he has learnt from his time at News where he has focused on developing advertiser relationships.
“I’ve long worked in marketing and advertising, and working the last 12 months at News Corporation globally has included free-to-air and pay TV, so I feel I have a pretty good idea of what drives those businesses,” said McLennan, who also helmed George Patterson Bates for several years from 1999. “I’ve been wired into hyper-competitive industries for some time now, and there are big challenges at Ten. There is a lot of money dedicated to the free-to-air industry, and Ten has not been getting a fair share of that.”
Former colleague at Y&R and now CommBank chief marketing officer Andy Lark this week gave his strong backing to McLennan, but others weren’t so effusive. Australian Financial Review columnist Rowan Dean wrote a piece this week tracing McLennan’s rise from mailroom boy to Y&R Global CEO, noting McLennan’s nickname in the advertising industry was ‘Hamish The Hammer’.
He also described antipathy for McLennan among former colleagues, but when approached by Encore, Dean wasn’t keen to expand. “Good luck with that,” he said.
A less generous former colleague told Encore that McLennan was more adept at “talking the talk than walking the walk”.
“This will be a huge challenge for him,” the source said. “They play a very tough game in television and his lack of programming experience will make it very tough for him to lead Ten in the state it’s now in.”
Another former colleague said he was “an operational henchman” who did “the dirty work for his bosses” at businesses which were under-performing. “Whatever plan Murdoch has, McLennan will go in and clinically do it,” the source said.
McLennan told Encore he had his own vision for Ten and would lead it that way. And he claimed his experience in advertising meant he knew the creative process well. “If you look at my peer group in the industry, they come from sales backgrounds, and the media business is all intertwined,” he said. “But I have spent the bulk of my career running creative agencies, and those disciplines in terms of how you deal with the left and right hand side of the brain are relevant to TV as well.”
As for Ten’s new direction, he said sport and news – with a specific target of getting one or more formats of cricket – would be a focus despite Ten axing many journalists last year.
McLennan – whose favourite show is Law And Order – felt Ten’s schedule was not consistent enough.
“We won’t deviate too far from 18 to 49-years-olds, but we should be open to a wider, older audience as well.
“We will always be youthful. I would say we should look for innovation, but be open and flexible to a wider audience, like bidding for cricket which would be a more male and older demographic.”
After the raised expectations for Warburton were dashed, McLennan does have one thing going for him: this time round, fewer people expect the new CEO to succeed.
This story first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit encore.com.au for a preview of the app or click below to download.