An ambitious TV company that’s making history by becoming a mini-John Lewis has appointed a broadcasting big hitter to help them chart a course for future growth.
Award-winning Llion Iwan, 49, head of content distribution at S4C, will be joining Caernarfon-based Cwmni Da that’s being handed over to the staff.
As director of content, Mr Iwan will oversee all of the company’s output with a particular emphasis on factual programmes and co-productions.
One of the attractions of the job, according to Mr Iwan, was that company owner and sole shareholder Dylan Huws, 59, was transforming the company into an Employee Ownership Trust.
It was the first television production company in the UK to announce it was going to be staff owned and about a month later the Oscar-winning outfit Aardman Animations revealed it was going down the same route.
The move has been made possible thanks to funding from the Development Bank of Wales.
Cwmni Da was founded in 1996 and has a long and successful track record making factual, entertainment, drama and children’s programmes, mainly in the Welsh language for S4C.
Their output includes some of the channel’s biggest hits like Fferm Ffactor, Noson Lawen, Deian a Loli, Dim Byd, and FFIT Cymru.
They are currently working on an international co-production with Scottish independent firm MacTV and LIC, the biggest independent television production company in China, on a new series about the world’s tides. S4C, Irish language channel TG4, BBC ALBA and BBC NI have also commissioned the series.
A native of Waunfawr, Mr Iwan is the son of folk singing legend, businessman and Plaid Cymru stalwart Dafydd Iwan.
He cut his teeth as a local weekly newspaper journalist in North Wales before working for the BBC, variously as a journalist, producer and director and later lectured at the Creative Industries Department at Bangor University.
Mr Iwan joined S4C in 2012, initially as the commissioner for factual content, also sport for a period, before becoming head of content distribution four years later.
He has won a clutch of industry awards, including honours bestowed by the Grenoble Film Festival, the Dijon Mountain Film festival and the Royal Television Society.
In 2013 while negotiating the rights to screen the Tour de France live on S4C he astonished French television bosses when he predicted that Geraint Thomas would win the event in the future.
The newly-created post at Cwmni Da means he can now return permanently to live on his home turf and be close to his two sons who live locally.
He said: “My training as a newspaper reporter gave me an important grounding because I’ve always enjoyed creating stories.
“Those skills have been fundamental to everything I have done since, be it as a reporter, a producer or a director, because they’re different ways of telling a story each time.
“When Princess Diana died, I was working on a news programme and we broke the story that her bodyguard was a Welshman, Trevor Rees-Jones, and we had interviews with people who knew him.
“Other career highlights have included the programme in which the climber Eric Jones, then aged 66, base jumped into the Cave of the Swallows in Mexico, and then came out all smiles.
“I was also very proud of the programme, Gerallt, about the poet Gerallt Lloyd Owen and the impact it had on viewers.
“In 2013 I contacted the company who dealt with the rights to the Tour de France and pitched that S4C wanted to be broadcasting live in Welsh when the first Welshman wins.
“We started broadcasting live the following year and I was on the Champs Elysees last summer watching Geraint Thomas win and lift up the Welsh Dragon while listening to a live feed of us broadcasting in Welsh. It was amazing.
“As a commissioner, I have come to know Cwmni Da very well and I have a huge respect for them and the high quality and range of the programmes they make.
“I am also very excited about the idea of being part of an Employee Owned Trust which has its roots firmly planted in the town, because this is an area where there aren’t too many opportunities outside of local government and education.
“My main focus will be overseeing the company’s content and co-productions. I will also be aiming to secure commissions for international series where you have a network of broadcasters and investors.
“As well as aiming for success in terms of audience reaction and awards, the idea is to generate income that strengthens the company and allows us to invest in the huge pool of talented people here at Cwmni Da.
“That will then give us a firm foundation for future growth and expansion.”
Mr Iwan’s burgeoning global reputation was underlined recently when he was invited to be a keynote speaker at a major international broadcasting conference in the South Korean capital, Seoul.
One of the reasons was that an international co-production, Y Wal (The Wall), which he commissioned while at S4C was among the most popular factual series on South Korean television last year.
Dylan Huws, who has sold his shares to the new trust, said: “The company is going through an exciting period with the changes that have happened in the structure of the company and we’re also looking forward as part of this to strengthen the board.
“Llion is the perfect fit for us because he has fantastic experience, a distinguished track record and international connections, as well as having experience of leading and managing which is just as important for me at the moment.
“He will be producing projects but he will also be leading our development portfolio across all genres.
“With Llion’s help, we are aiming for growth in our factual output, particularly in the international market.
“There are opportunities out there and we need someone experienced who understands how that market works properly in order to break through.
“Llion would be a great addition to any company and he also has an understanding of the culture and ethos of Cwmni Da.
“He wanted to be a part of the excitement of becoming an Employee Ownership Trust and we are delighted to have a professional of Llion’s calibre on board.”
Llion Iwan and Dylan Huws