My campaign: Carolyn McCall on being a rookie pitcher in 1988

Selling wasn't really part of the plan for her at The Guardian... until aceing the AA's Media Business Course set her on the road to becoming the media group's chief executive.

In 1988, I was a very happy planner and researcher at The Guardian when I was sent on the Advertising Association’s Media Business Course. It was a really big thing to be sent on. The whole spectrum of the industry is there – agencies, clients and media owners. You are given a real client brief, put into groups 

and given two nights and three days to work on winning the pitch. The client briefs you and the judges are senior people in the industry. The top commercial directors pitch their media to you and inspiring people, such as John Hegarty, talk about creativity. We had an absolutely brilliant team. It was hard work but also so much fun. We worked and partied till the early hours and had to be on time the next morning.

To my horror, my syndicate forced me to present our ideas on stage to 300 people and a judging panel. It was terrifying. As a researcher, I’d never had to stand up and pitch before. We ended up winning, receiving loads of prizes and kudos. That night, I got three job offers from completely different media owners. They were all sales jobs. At that point, I’d never contemplated being in sales.

I'd never had to pitch before. We ended up winning. That night, I got three job offers

I went back to The Guardian and excitedly told the ad manager about the offers – I was so naïve. He said: "Don’t do anything rash; let’s go out for lunch and discuss it." He offered me a job setting up a new client territory for sales at The Guardian. I said I didn’t want to work in sales but he persuaded me and reassured me that if I didn’t like it, I could keep my car and salary and go back to what I’d been doing. That was my big break.

I went on to do loads of different things – launching Guardian Unlimited, being the chief executive of Guardian Media Group and then of easyJet. But I honestly don’t think I would have gone on to do all those things if I hadn’t moved to the sales team.

Carolyn McCall was a planner and research at The Guardian. She is now the chief executive of ITV 

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