Overview – Auntie’s first lady

Talk about being pitched into the firing line. Zarin Patel took up her job as BBC finance director on 1 December. And then, just days later as part of a major cost cutting exercise, Auntie unveiled a huge round of job cuts.

This was confirmation, if Patel really needed it, that being the FD of the BBC is one of the highest profile finance positions in the country. But then she is probably used to being in the news. Check the internet and you soon discover that her appointment as FD made headlines across the globe.

Patel is the first woman FD at the BBC, a fact that has not gone unnoticed since she was awarded the job back in October.

Nor has the fact that her appointment makes her one of the ‘highest-ranking Asians within the corporation’, according to media watchers.

Probably more relevant as a comment on her elevation as the Beeb’s FD, given that she is in charge of an annual operating expenditure of some £4bn, is the fact that her promotion has been backed in financial circles.

An Ernst & Young report into financial controls at the BBC, concluded last month, welcomed Patel’s appointment.

As well as control of the budget, Patel will lead the company’s financial strategy and planning and provide financial leadership to all of the BBC’s divisions. It is likely that she will also have responsibility for licence fee collection and procurement.

Licence fees have been a Patel success story in her time at the BBC. Before 1 December she was head of revenue management and saw licence fee evasion reduced to an all-time low of 5.7%. She oversaw the award of a 10-year, £500m contract to Capita to administer the licence.

Patel also played an important part in implementing ‘One BBC’ – the brainchild of previous director-general Greg Dyke – which sought to reduce running costs so more could be spent on programming.

She has been at the BBC for six years. In 1998 she joined as group financial controller and was to head revenue management in 2001.

Prior to working at the BBC, Patel spent many years at KPMG where, according to her BBC biography she ‘gained 15 years’ experience at a senior level with multinational corporations across the industrial and commercial sectors’. She trained as a chartered accountant after graduating in economics from the London School of Economics in 1982.

Though the BBC itself is reluctant to reveal much detail, a Friends Reunited page for one Zarin Patel points to a life not just confined to work. ‘Became an accountant; travelled the world; now with the BBC’, she tells old school friends from Twickenham.

Patel is also a governor for the University of Arts in London.

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