In this episode of MediaRoad SkillBytes we meet RTÉ’s Director of Transformation and Technology and acting Director of Operations and Production Services. Richard Waghorn has enjoyed a varied career – starting in the BBC and commercial radio in the UK. After 3 years as CTO at SABC in South Africa, he is now back in the Northern Hemisphere, working to drive strategic and technological change at RTÉ in Dublin. In a city that hosts many global tech companies, how does Richard attract talent to the public service media organisation? In this episode we’ll learn how Richard has benefited from exposure to different areas of the broadcast industry and how he has developed his leadership skills as a CTO, despite his non-technical background.
Eoghan: You’re listening to MediaRoad SkillBytes with me, Eoghan O’Sullivan. The MediaRoad project is supporting the transformation of the European media sector by building an ecosystem for innovation. SkillBytes is a podcast series where we’re exploring changing skillsets and career paths in today’s media technology environment. Our guest for this episode is Richard Waghorn, Director of Transformation and Technology and Acting Director of Operations and Production Services with RTÉ, Ireland’s national public broadcaster.
Richard: RTÉ was six different integrated business divisions. There wasn’t much collaboration between the IBDs – they were very much silos. So, when the new Director General joined in 2016, she set about a plan to restructure the organisation. Actually, just driving a programme of works that over time will help to support the transformation of RTÉ into one RTÉ and making sure it’s best placed to meet the challenges of the future.
E: Richard. Thanks for joining me.
R: Pleasure. Thanks, Eoghan.
E: So, Richard, on SkillBytes I always like to start by asking you if you could maybe summarise your career up to now in thirty seconds.
R: When I was a university, you had a couple of placements in BBC Radio. And so I had a few years working in production. I was a researcher, presenter and I also was a Studio Manager. And then I moved on to commercial radio for a couple of years, working for Essex Radio in Southend. And then, from there I moved back to the BBC and worked in strategy. I was lucky enough to work as a project manager as well on interactive TV. Oh, and also I was a project manager for the launch of Freeview – the first free-to-air TV platform in the UK. And from then I worked in distribution, doing commercial deals with platforms and multiplex operators for the distribution of the BBC’s TV and radio services. And then South Africa called – the South African Broadcasting Corporation – where I started off as Chief Technology Officer. I was there for three years actually. I then moved to Dublin to Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), where I took on the role of CTO. And then my role has expanded. I’m also now responsible for transformation or helping to support the transformation programme for the organisation. And then, since the beginning of this year, the Director General clearly thought I wasn’t busy enough and asked me to look after our operations division, which is all of our production teams, all of our broadcast teams, media teams, as well as our property team as well. So a little bit longer than thirty seconds, but that’s essentially the career.
E: Yeah, you squeezed so much into that career so far that I think we can forgive you for going over the thirty seconds. So you’re effectively a CTO (Chief Technology Officer), but you’re not from a technology background?
R: No, I’m not actually. I’m a production background originally, but no very much, I’m a businessperson. But as I’ve said when I applied for the roles in South Africa and at RTÉ, “if you want me as your CTO, you’re not getting an engineer. You’re getting someone that understands the business, that understands the production side of the house”. I have an ability to be able to translate technical aspects for non-technical audiences and I think that really helps as well.
E: I wonder, is it a bit like having a head of finance, who has no background in finance or numbers or accounting?
R: I’ve come across a number of good technical experts that actually, I think, struggle in the leadership role because I think they can be very focused on the technical side. They might not have the people management skills, they might not have the leadership skills. Absolutely may be the world’s best technical expert, but if you’ve got a team of people and you’re running a business (and running a technology function is running a business) you’ve got to make sure you’re within budget, you’ve got to be providing the service, make sure you’re delivering the levels of service that the customers expect.
E: Now, RTÉ has been going through a big transformation in the last couple of years. Our specific interest on SkillBytes is around skill sets, competencies, training, career development – that kind of thing. So if you look at the kind of transformation that RTÉ is going through, where do you see that impacting on the kinds of skills and competencies that you’re looking for in the teams that you’re working with there now?
R: So let’s just think about what I did with technology: trying to move away from the different silos and saying, actually “you are an engineer, you’re a senior broadcast engineer or a broadcast engineer. Actually, you can work across IP, IT or broadcast projects if you wanted to”. To help people develop their own skills. There’s a flexibility in the structure and the work that we do that I think enables people to kind of branch out and get involved. And I certainly, for one, encourage as much movement around the organisation as possible. I’ve benefited from getting exposure in my career to lots of different aspects of the business, and I’m trying to encourage others to do the same where the opportunities are available.
E: You’re based in Dublin, which is where RTÉ’s headquarters are. Dublin is, of course, a big tech hub. Does that make it difficult in terms of attracting and holding on to technology talent in the organisation?
R: It does. And I think certainly for a lot of the engineering skills we’re looking for, it is a challenge. But then it’s also an opportunity because, you know, there was a lot of people attracted to Dublin now. A lot of technical expertise is attracted to Dublin. RTÉ is a good brand – it’s a well-recognised brand – and people do want to come and work for us. We have recently advertised for a couple of positions and you know, we had significant numbers of applications. Unfortunately, some of the other firms in Dublin pay a little bit more. But then, you know, we are a public service media organisation, and people want to work for public service media companies for different reasons, not just necessarily the intrinsic values of cash.
E: So if people do want to come and work for RTÉ, are you finding that they have the kind of profile and the kind of skill sets that you’re looking for when you advertise these positions?
R: I think so on the IT and the IP side, absolutely. I think on the broadcast side there’s less qualified people within the market. Other than RTÉ, you have Virgin Media Television and you have TG4 in Ireland. Essentially, it is a small broadcast market. So I think it is harder to attract some of the broadcast technology skills. But that’s one of the reasons why we have created a structure which is around infrastructure and around applications that actually we want to reduce some of our reliance on just broadcast-only skills and to try and train-up the engineers to have a range of skills across broadcast, IT or IP so that we’re more protected for the future.
E: You did an interview with IBC a year or two ago, and in that interview you said “I’ve changed the way I interact with the team and now have a very motivated team who are inspired to do their best and to grow”. I’m wondering what you changed about the way you were interacting?
R: I think it wasn’t necessarily the way that I changed. I think it was the way that we changed the leadership of the technology area. So I think one of the most effective tools I use is the Routine. And it worked for me at the BBC – both as somebody that was being managed and lead, but also as somebody that was leading and managing other people. I have a Routine with all my direct reports every two to three weeks. It’s a very open conversation. We talk about what their challenges are, what their successes are, what’s going on in the organisation, you know, share some inside thoughts, whatever else it is. Really kind of drive a rapport and a really positive working relationship with each other actually. And to be very honest in kind of giving feedback both ways – it’s not just a one-way conversation. And I think having established those routines and having built up that network of regular communication, I think has really helped to make the team very motivated.
E: So, Richard Waghorn at the end of this podcast, I want to ask you one question which we ask all our guests, and that is: if you could give one piece of advice to yourself at the start of your career from where you are now, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
R: I’m gonna make it two pieces. One piece which I have actually followed and one piece which I wish I had followed. The one piece that I have followed is: get as much experience as you can in as many different areas of the organisation as you possibly can and move around and don’t be afraid to move organisations. The piece of advice I wish I had followed: I just wish I was better at networking. I’m a little bit introverted sometimes, and so sometimes it doesn’t come as natural to me as it does to others. So I would like to have probably had more practice at networking earlier, which I think would have helped me in the rest of my career.
E: Richard Waghorn, thank you.
R: Thank you very much Eoghan.
E: You can find information on the initiative that has inspired this series by heading to mediaroad.eu