Tim Davie profile: from Pepsi marketing man to the BBC's top job

·2-min read
Tim Davie - Jeff Overs/Reuters
Tim Davie - Jeff Overs/Reuters

Tim Davie made his name as the man who turned Pepsi blue. As a the company’s UK marketing manager in 1996, he led the £200 million campaign to rebrand the fizzy drink and take on the might of Coca-Cola. One of his stunts involved painting Concorde in the new Pepsi colours.

Davie has said that the “challenger” mentality he took on during the Pepsi vs Coke wars has been helpful ever since - now more than ever, as US media giants dwarf the BBC.

Although regarded as a safe pair of hands at the corporation, with a deep understanding of its values, he is certainly not afraid of a challenge. His hobby is marathon running, and not just the common or garden kind: Davie runs ultra-marathons, including the gruelling Marathon des Sables and a race at the North Pole.

The son of a wine and spirits salesman and a teacher, Davie grew up in Croydon, south London - he is a Crystal Palace fan - and won a scholarship to the private Whitgift School before studying at Selwyn College, Cambridge.

He worked first at Procter & Gamble, then PepsiCo, and joined the BBC as head of marketing in 2005. His appointment as head of audio and music in 2008 surprised many - a man with no programme-making experience being put in charge of the BBC’s radio output - but he proved himself capable.

While there, he proposed closing 6 Music, prompting fans to launch a campaign. The station was saved, and there are some who believe it was a clever stunt designed to prove the BBC’s value to audiences.

He had the confidence to apply for the top job in 2012, aged 45, but it went to George Entwistle. A few months later, Davie was watching Skyfall with his wife and three sons at a Reading cinema when he got the call from the BBC chairman, Chris Patten, to say Entwistle had resigned over the Jimmy Savile scandal following an on-air savaging by the Today programme’s John Humphrys.

Davie was asked to step in as caretaker. “It was a crisis that needed handling,” he said. He was criticised for appearing on television without a tie, but other than that was praised for steering the corporation through the next five months until Lord Hall’s appointment.

Colleagues speak of his decisive leadership, and describe him as a driven but personable character. In an interview for the Royal Television Society, Davie said he had “quite a lot of commercial DNA” but stressed that his love for the BBC and public service broadcasting goes back a long way: “My base wiring is Blue Peter, suburban Britain.”