CLOSE-UP: Newsmaker/Kai-Lu Hsiung - A former receptionist who holds the reins at RSA

Kai-Lu Hsiung is not fazed about taking over the RSA hotseat.

Managing the soon-to-be knighted Ridley Scott's flagship London enterprise would be a daunting task for anyone, let alone a 38-year-old, pint-sized former receptionist. But Kai-Lu Hsiung is refusing to let the scale of the task, becoming the managing director of RSA Films and Black Dog Films, phase her.

She might be open, friendly, fun-loving and popular, but the new no-nonsense managing director says she is simply going to put her head down and get on with it.

Her main concern at the moment, she jokes, is that the same fate doesn't befall her as that of her predecessor, Adrian Harrison, who, a few months into the role, found himself not only grey but four-stone lighter.

Harrison, who has been with RSA for 15 years, has watched the business get tougher and tougher, with reduced mark-ups, shrinking budgets and an ever-increasing number of directors competing for work. RSA is making no secret of the fact that last year was the worst in its 35-year history.

Hsiung is having to get acquainted with figures at a break-neck speed and has some difficult decisions ahead. Taking the helm mid-recession means she will have to cut costs and she is planning to lease some of the company's expensive Soho office space.

However, she's adamant that she won't get stuck behind a desk: "I still want to be hands-on, maintaining relationships, generating work, producing occasionally and looking for new talent. My main goal is getting the balance right; keeping the creativity and the award-winning directors and making sure things are financially viable. I just want to make sure that everyone is busy."

She is expected to reduce, yet try to raise the profile of, RSA's roster of directors. The company's critics say the roster is not as ground-breaking or high profile as it could be. With its direct connection to Ridley and Tony Scott, the best new talent should be queuing up to get access to Hollywood, attracting more stars of the calibre of Chris Cunningham.

The glamorous Hsiung will be more visible than Harrison, who has a quiet nature and a propensity to wear woolly jumpers.

However, it is easy to underestimate him. When the high-flying Jo Godman left RSA in 1996, he took the helm of the most successful production company in London and many expected him to fail.

Instead he has kept RSA at the forefront with a quiet, yet confident management style.

Admittedly, however, the company never seemed to achieve the notoriety it enjoyed in the 80s and early 90s when the "RSA style" - big-budget, glossy, cinematic - was all the rage.

Harrison is well known for his views on what he sees as an outmoded industry.

At seminars, in private, to whoever will listen, Harrison spouts forth on how companies need to look to new areas to embrace the future and ensure their continued survival.

This is one of the reasons, among the more personal ones, why Harrison chose to resign before Christmas, with, he says, little idea of what he will do next. He is currently performing "an old Mr Grace to the young Mr Grace" hand-over to Hsiung, who, as executive producer, has effectively been Harrison's right-hand woman for the past two-and-a-half years.

Hsiung's background is colourful and varied. An arts graduate like her parents and grandparents before her, she stumbled across the commercials production business by chance when she cycled past a shoot one day.

After gaining an MA from the Royal College of Art, Hsiung first went into teaching. But her warm and friendly nature left her vulnerable. "I got too attached to the students and too upset when they left so I decided that perhaps the job wasn't for me."

From there, she launched a Tankgirl-style comic called Deadline before going on to work for the Time Out Eating Guide, her Chinese background propelling her into the role of Chinese restaurant reviewer. Several stone heavier, she began cycling everywhere, including to meet a friend working on a shoot.

One thing led to another, and much to the amazement of her friends and family, she ended up as a somewhat over-qualified receptionist at Guard Phillips Hughes and Lowe.

Within a year, the 27-year-old became a PA for the director Steve Lowe and the eccentric Howard Guard. And when they joined RSA in 1991, they asked the famously fearsome Godman if she could come too.

"I was terrified and think that the only reason she let me join is that we both went to Camden School for Girls," Hsiung says.

She began producing after a year, eventually for Laurence Dunmore whom she introduced to the company. Since then she has built up a strong reputation and a reliable set of contacts.

As Mark Wnek, the chairman of Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper, says: "RSA has never been the company it was when Jo Godman was in charge, but that could change with Kai in charge.

If anyone could be the new Jo Godman, it is Kai. With her attention to detail, her charm, her patience and her eye for talent, she's one of the best in the business."

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