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Heather Conway photographed at the AGO in Toronto, Nov. 9, 2011.Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

The president of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation defended his decision on Wednesday to hire Heather Conway, an executive at the Art Gallery of Ontario who has never worked in either radio or television programming, to head up the public broadcaster's English-language services.

"We were not looking for a programmer to fill that job," said Hubert Lacroix during a media scrum after the CBC's annual public meeting, held Wednesday at the Glenn Gould Theatre.

"It's an important management position – and we have great people who [program] content every day."

The choice of Conway surprised many in the TV industry, in part because her sole experience in television came during a six-year stint as a marketing and communications executive at the broadcaster and producer Alliance Atlantis Communications Inc. She also served as an executive at TD Financial Group and, for two years, as the CEO of the public relations firm Edelman Canada. Conway became the AGO's chief business officer in September, 2011.

Conway's predecessor, Kirstine Stewart, who departed CBC in April to become the head of Twitter Canada, had deep experience as a television programmer, but Lacroix insisted that was not a prerequisite for a position that ultimately approves the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars on content. "Some people have that and some people don't," he said, noting that Stewart's predecessor Richard Stursberg had not been a programmer when he became executive vice-president of English-language services in 2004.

"I don't want us, and I don't want you, to associate the last person and her skills with respect to the skills we were looking for in the next hire," Lacroix said. "We need somebody that understood the magnitude of the challenges – the management challenges, the financial challenges, the technical challenges – and if you look at her CV, her background, that's exactly what she brings."

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