Lorraine Heggessey is a TV powerhouse. Trailblazing as the first female controller of BBC1, then Chief Exec of TalkbackThames, she is now heading up Boom Pictures, a new group of companies which houses, amongst others, Indus, Oxford Scientific Films, Boomerang and Delightful Pictures, and will soon welcome ITV’s Laura Mackie and Sally Haines. Neither womanhood, nor motherhood, has held Heggessey back: “I never felt that there was any barrier to me as a woman, and I always felt that there were people encouraging me.”
So how has she acheived all of this, and had a family too? She laughs “I just got on with it!… I’m quite a full on person – I think that I’m very lucky in that I’m quite an energetic person – and I’m a very positive person.” Married to a musician, he gigged in the evenings and looked after the kids in the day. They had a part time nanny, then over time “Mr. Heggessey” took over the childcare “like a stay-at-home wife”. When she moved from a staff job to work freelance for an indie Heggessey agreed to do it on her own terms: “I said ‘you’ve got to guarantee me nine months’ work out of the year at least’. I had to negotiate – I was the major earner. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.” You’ll never know if you don’t ask, or don’t try: “Don’t circumscribe your own ambition – go for it – you might not get it – but go for it.”
That’s certainly been Heggessey’s motto, although she describes herself as not having had a career plan, “zigzagging” from job to job. “I’ve done a lot of different things. When I got to BBC1 that made sense backwards.” She took the jobs because they interested her. “I think it’s really important to be yourself and pick jobs that suit that self. If you force yourself to be a square peg in a round hole you’re never going to be that happy… I think life is too short to push yourself to do jobs you think you ought to – just do jobs that make you happy, because if you’re happy the likelihood is you will do your job well and be successful.”
Heggessey’s career is like a Who’s Who of TV. It’s patently obvious that she is loyal to people whose talent she respects, and that she loves her work: ”I bridle slightly when people talk about work life balance because it’s not like work isn’t part of your life.” She doesn’t feel she has made sacrifices for her career: “I’ve always looked at is as making positive choices rather than making sacrifices – I’ve made choices about being a parent.” She has described running the BBC Children’s Department when her children were young as the next best thing to running Hamley’s and talks warmly about her children’s visibility in her workplace, their set visits to their favourite shows.
Despite her confidence and drive, Lorraine Heggessey is also somehow humble, her Wiki page mentions getting on to the BBC Trainee Scheme second time round, she has publicly said “everybody has something to learn from everybody” – and she really means it. She is open about working with an executive coach when she was exec producing: “She was the one who made me think more about progressing up more of a managerial career ladder… I would recommend using a coach. I think mentors are really good too… It’s really good for people to have positive role models… Suddenly things become more possible once someone has done it already.”
So how did she feel about taking on the BBC One Controller role? “I was terrified – I think I quite like being terrified. If I’m not terrified I get a little bit bored. I am the kind of person who likes to be stretched… Whether it’s taking skills from current affairs and then becoming a science producer … Or running a children’s department then running a channel… Commissioning and launching a show like Strictly Come Dancing was a proud moment – it may not seem like it now but at the time putting ballroom dancing on primetime TV was a bit of a risk.”
And she is also adamant that wanting to start a family shouldn’t hold you back – or be put on hold. “There’s never a right or wrong time to do it – your career will work around you having children.” When she had her second child she negotiated a contract as a freelancer with Peter Salmon. “I had the baby in December, and we went into pre-production in January. I went back one day a week in January, two days a week in February, in March, three days. I could take her into work because I wasn’t in every day. I was staff when I had my first baby, freelance when I had my second so I just had to get on with it… I’ve never tried to hide the fact that I had family, you’ve just got to be yourself.”
Heggessey makes the point that a career break need not affect you, not when we will all be working ’til we’re seventy. Will she have to? “I don’t think I will want to stop…” For now she is excited by the prospect of Netflix commissioning original programming and creating its own content, and the implications for Boom Pictures: “Hopefully that market will continue to grow for me and other companies… Boom is a follow on… Chief Exec of Talkback was my first properly commercial experience… I got to the stage where I thought ‘I want to do my own thing – I want to do something in my image with my values.’” In her own image and with her own values, Boom could not be more aptly named.
Please read more inspiring tips on management from Lorraine Heggessey here: http://kickingassets.co.uk/how-to-motivate-your-team-l