Friday 24 January 2020

Discovery Channel head is first woman appointed to RTÉ top job

RTE chair Moya Doherty, Miriam O’Callaghan, Dee Forbes and INM Group Business Editor Dearbhail McDonald at the Women In Media conference in Ballybunion
RTE chair Moya Doherty, Miriam O’Callaghan, Dee Forbes and INM Group Business Editor Dearbhail McDonald at the Women In Media conference in Ballybunion
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

She commutes from London to west Cork on a weekly basis, describes Munster Rugby as her first passion, and refuses to open work emails at the weekend - meet RTE's new director general.

Dee Forbes will be the first woman to hold the most senior role in RTÉ after the State broadcaster's board recommended the appointment of Discovery Channel Europe's managing director.

The 47-year-old grew up in Drimoleague in west Cork, where her family ran a pub.

She helped her mum run the family's East End Bar, while her father taught at Ardscoil Phobail in Bantry. The Cork woman is close to her siblings Eamonn and Aideen, who continue to live in Ireland.

She has previously spoken about how her childhood included memories of 'standing on crates and washing glasses' when she was about six years old - and gave her a great grounding in hard work and dealing with people.

She and her partner own a seaside home in Glandore, with the businesswoman commuting from her London office to her Cork home every weekend. She stressed how she keeps her home life very removed from her hectic work life, praising west Cork for allowing her to recharge her batteries each week.

"I try to keep my weekends sacred," she previously told the The Southern Star, adding that her team have an informal rule that no emails or texts should be sent at weekends, with phonecalls made only if something is urgent.

After finishing school in the convent in Clonakilty, Ms Forbes went on to UCD where she studied politics and history. But she spent her summers at home working in the pub.

She found her true passion while fundraising for college societies and approaching businesses for advertising for publications. After a week of work experience at an agency in Dublin, she opted for a career in advertising and moved to London in 1989 at the age of 21.

Going for her first job, she was asked about her experience in selling advertising, and pointed out the thousands of pints she had sold over the counter in west Cork.

She started working at Young & Rubicam, dealing with clients such as TWA and Johnston & Johnston. She later moved to media consultancy Media Audits and helped open a Dublin office.

But after a mentor told her the future was in television, she took "a leap of faith" and moved to Turner Broadcasting, where she spent 14 years in a range of roles, including head of advertising sales for Europe and general manager in the UK and Ireland.

In 2010, she joined Discovery Networks and is currently president and managing director of the Western Europe division, covering 27 TV brands in 18 markets.

Despite her hectic work schedule she is a non-executive director of 'The Irish Times' and is also on the board of Munster Rugby, which she describes as her first passion in life.

"Although it was a tough professional decision to leave Discovery, the personal decision to return to Ireland and lead its biggest broadcaster, RTÉ, is an opportunity of a lifetime," she said yesterday.

Her appointment as director general is expected to be ratified by the acting government next week after a meeting of the RTÉ board yesterday.

Ms Forbes will replace the current director general Noel Curran, who is due to step down from the role next month after serving for five years.

Chair of RTÉ's board, Moya Doherty, said she was delighted to announce the appointment, adding: "Not only is this the first director general in almost 50 years to be appointed externally, but she will also be the first female to hold the role."

Joan O'Connor, chairperson of Women in Media, said she was "thrilled" with the appointment.

Irish Independent

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