BusinessCompany NewsAwards 2001 – John Smith – Financial Director of the Year.

Awards 2001 - John Smith - Financial Director of the Year.

The high calibre of entrants made this a tough decision, but the coveted Accountancy Age Financial Director of the Year Award has been given to John Smith from the BBC.

The BBC’s finance chief saw off competition from Peter Anderson, who turned round Canary Wharf from the brink of insolvency to a lucrative business, and Gaynor Coley, who headed the finances of the highly successful Eden Project in Cornwall. But the judges saw Smith as displaying outstanding work and commended his achievements.

‘It is very easy to overlook the shambles in place before he took over,’ said one judge. ‘He turned the BBC into a different organisation financially.’ Another said Smith ‘coped well with what must be nightmarish bureaucracy’.

In 1999, the BBC’s accounts department was faced with a challenge after negotiating a healthy licence fee settlement with the government. In return for providing the company with certainty and real revenue growth, the government set the corporation some tough targets. This year, the corporation has planned to increase its expenditure to transform its services, spending an additional £450m per year by 2004.

Smith has had a hand in maximising the BBC’s income. He led the implementation of a new SAP accounting system – shrinking accounting systems from 11 to one – masterminded the company’s property strategy and set out a new approach to annual reporting. To maximise its income, the BBC has achieved its lowest licence fee evasion rate. Despite a turbulent year with its licence collection agency, it has reduced the cost of licence fee collection and evasion to 10.8%.

The BBC also created a new subsidiary, Technology Ltd, which is expected to save about 20% a year by 2004 in price reductions for technology services.

Technology will also sell its expertise to external companies.

Smith has led the attack on overheads, which aims to save the BBC £166m year by 2004. During this financial year, it has saved £45m, ahead of its £25m target.

The BBC has also begun sending annual reports to licence-fee payers, showing it has provided value for money. Since he joined the BBC’s corporate finance team in 1989, Smith has negotiated the first contracts introducing the private sector, and helped design and oversee the introduction of Producer Choice and the internal market.

Among his achievements, as financial controller of Network Television he helped sort out the 1991 massive overspend, the ‘missing millions’.

Since he was appointed director of finance in 1997, Smith has increased his responsibilities to include financial and commercial strategy, internal audit, and property and facilities management.

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