Perhaps the biggest surprise about the launch of Carlton Online’s
first three websites was the lack of anything about cats and gardening -
the two subjects that Carol Dukes, the managing director of the Carlton
Communications-owned start-up, is known to be obsessed with. Still, it’s
At 36, Dukes looks much younger and bears more than a passing
resemblance to Thelma from Scooby Doo.
It’s a far cry from the trendy, young, new-media type one hears
But Dukes shares more than just looks with her animated counterpart.
Like Thelma and the rest of those pesky kids, you can never tell where
she will turn up next. It’s been the hallmark of her career.
Her CV seems to be the product of some random career-generating machine
as jobs appear to fall seamlessly into her lap. Indeed, Dukes admits
that she doesn’t have an orchestrated master strategy. ’It’s whatever
seems to fit,’ she says.
Having read PPE at Oxford, Dukes bummed around before learning shorthand
and typing. It was part of her determined and practical approach to
If nothing else, Dukes reasoned, she could at least secure a highly paid
She wrote to 50 TV production companies and entered the ground floor of
the cable revolution at IVS, which was later bought by Flextech. It
initially sold satellite movie systems but soon found itself in the
cable business with franchises in Andover and Oxford.
IVS was a small company when Dukes joined and she became involved in all
aspects of the business. However, as the company grew Dukes thought she
was in danger of being boxed in. She decided it was time to broaden her
skills: ’If I had stayed there, I would have been put in a slot. I would
have been in marketing or something with no access to technology or
finance. I don’t want to be in a box.’
Dukes took an MBA at the London Business School, and two years later
joined Gemini Consulting as a management consultant. It was a short
’I did not like management consultancy. I like to be part of something
but consultants are perpetually on the outside. I found advising and not
doing frustrating. I’m not a perfectionist. I’m a ’good enough’,’ she
Dukes resigned and 30 minutes later was lined up for a corporate
planning role at Emap’s head office. Having been involved in cable - the
new media of the 80s - Dukes began looking at CD-Roms and the fledgling
online industry. It suited her perfectly - it was new, called for
experimentation and, as she puts it, ’you don’t have to listen to old
Emap was just beginning its investment in new media, the spur for which
had been the launch of Internet magazine in 1994. From that, Emap Online
flowed, headed by Dukes and Roger Green.
Emap’s magazines began to hear about what Dukes and Green were doing and
suddenly started asking for their own websites.
Green says: ’It became quite a joke that we were cranking out proposals
and deals non-stop.’
Several successful standalone internet titles followed, including
whatsnew.com, whatson.com, a2btravel.com and aloud.com.
Dukes says: ’With a2btravel and aloud, two sites in the important areas
of travel and e-commerce, they have an opportunity to grow. That’s a
launch-pad I helped to create. I think I sowed a lot of seeds and raised
awareness. I like to think I have a mission.’
Having developed Emap Online, Dukes witnessed the sale of the sales
operation to Real Media and suddenly came to the conclusion there was
room for one managing director - and that was Green. Typically, her next
opportunity was waiting around the corner.
’I asked them to make me redundant. They turned me down. Then Carlton
called out of the blue. I think I’m quite lucky.’
Carlton offered Dukes the job of launching Carlton Online from
That’s from nought to 38 people and three websites in six months. It was
perfect, Dukes says, ’a start-up, freedom to do what we wanted with new
brands and the backing of Carlton’.
The recent weeks and months have been hectic. Dukes says she is
considering a holiday and, when pressed, admits that someday she could
see herself living the quiet life - looking after a herb garden or maybe
that tea shop in Glastonbury that so badly needs a decent manager.
’I’m not sure it will happen, but after six months of the tea shop I’d
probably want to franchise it.’
THE DUKES FILE
1983 Oxford University
1984 admin assistant, IVS
1988 director, IVS
1990 MBA, London Business School
1992 consultant, Gemini Consulting
1993 corporate planner, Emap
1995 director, online media centre, Emap Computing
1997 joint managing director, Emap Online
1998 managing director of Carlton Online. Launched games site
jamba.co.uk, film site popcorn.co.uk and simplyfood.co.uk