Smith's position said to be shaky as Entwistle shuffles team

LONDON

The longtime head of BBC Worldwide, John Smith, could be the next senior departure from the Beeb as new director general George Entwistle continues to reorganize his senior team.

Smith has run the pubcaster’s commercial arm since 2004 and led Worldwide to an outstanding financial performance, delivering a record £216 million ($315 million) into the BBC’s coffers in the year up to March.

But a key part of Entwistle’s pitch for the job involved bringing Worldwide closer to the Beeb’s core public service activities, a policy believed to be favored by BBC chairman Chris Patten, who appointed the new director general.

Smith, who joined the BBC as an accountant in 1989 before becoming finance director and COO, has faced criticism from commercial rivals for investing in independent producers and buying the Lonely Planet travel guides business, moves that some said strayed beyond Worldwide’s mandate.

One stumbling block to Smith’s departure would be the size of his payoff, thought to include a £4 million ($6.5 million) pension pot generating a potential income of $324,640 a year at age 60, a potentially embarrassing sum for a BBC employee.

Entwistle took over the BBC on Sept. 17 and looks determined to run a tight ship primed for a fully digital world.

A spokesman for the BBC dismissed talk of Smith quitting, saying, “This continues to be nothing more than speculation. George has expressed his firm commitment to BBC Worldwide and has not announced any changes to its management structure.”

Last week the BBC’s most senior female executive, COO Caroline Thomson, who competed with Entwistle for the DG’s job, confirmed that she would quit at the end of September.

In June BBC Worldwide prexy Jana Bennett announced she would step down this fall as part of Worldwide’s reorganization.

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