MFM has choosen its annual “People to Watch” honorees for 2018. They are known for getting out of their office to experience the business first-hand. They also tend to ask good questions and to communicate the right information. For them, it’s not just about getting things done; it’s about getting them right.
Media, particularly television, has a lot on its proverbial plate for 2018. The spectrum auction slowed 2017 station sales, creating pent-up demand for transactions. Recent changes at the FCC seem to be fueling that demand.
Then there are the challenges around completing auction-related engineering changes. Add to that the adoption of technology to enable the next generation of service and the day-to-day issues of new legislation, systems upgrades, an increasingly competitive sales environment, and ongoing management challenges. It would be fair to say it’s time for a hero or two.
The good news is that the Media Financial Management Association has identified at least five financial leaders poised to take on all that 2018 has to offer. They are our “People to Watch for 2018.” Three of them come from television businesses and all of them have a mission that will affect media in 2018
The editorial board for MFM’s The Financial Manager selected this year’s honorees from an outstanding crop of nominations. They were interviewed by TFM Editor Janet Stilson, a longtime industry journalist and contributing writer for TVNewsCheck.
Stilson identified several common traits among our honorees. They are known for getting out of their office to experience the business first-hand. They also tend to ask good questions and to communicate the right information. For them, it’s not just about getting things done; it’s about getting them right.
The majority of our 2018 honorees mentioned the importance of advice from strong leaders and mentors. Many of the lessons they’ve learned, either from mentors or from their own experience, are contained in the profiles Stilson wrote for the January-February 2018 issue of TFM.
MFM members will be receiving their mailed copies shortly and an electronic version of the issue will be available on the MFM website a bit later this month. In the meantime, following are some takeaways that are sure to inspire other 2018 leaders and heroes:
Ed O’Connor, WTVD’s ‘Brainstormer in Chief’
When WTVD Raleigh-Durham, N.C., was chosen to take part in the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative, it was no surprise that former MFM Board Member, Ed O’Connor, the station’s director of operations and business planning, was chosen to lead the charge. “I picked Ed to be our team leader because he’s great at getting people to throw out ideas. They always say, ‘Brainstorm; don’t judge. Write it down. Go back and think about it.’ He’s really good at that process,” says Caroline Welch, president-GM of the ABC-owned station.
Echoing the station’s GM on O’Connor’s leadership role was Rob Elmore, VP-news director of KABC Los Angeles, and a former WTVD news director who worked with O’Connor for 17 years. “Ed is a doer. He jumps in and does whatever is necessary in an upbeat manner. With Ed it was always, ‘How can we do something?’ versus ‘How can we not do something?’ ”
O’Connor, who held positions at two other stations earlier in his career, says one of the important lessons he learned along the way was to spend time in the field. “You really need to know how everything works.” O’Connor says: “I’ve gone out on sales calls. I’ve gone out on stories with field crews. And it’s really been eye-opening,”
Lucy Rutishauser, Sinclair’s Great Communicator
“The one thing that I always try to tell people is, ‘Anticipate what the next question is going to be,’” advises Lucy Rutishauser, SVP, CFO and treasurer of Sinclair Broadcast Group. “’When you do an analysis and come in with a recommendation, have those answers.’”
It’s not just Rutishauser’s knowledge, but also the way she communicates it that impresses Marci Ryvicker, managing director of equity research in the media, cable, broadcast and outdoor sectors at Wells Fargo Securities. “She explains things in a way that we can understand them. “She will take some of the really big issues and say, ‘Here’s what you need to know. Here’s the good; here’s the bad. Here’s what we think is going to happen.’”
In addition to her long tenure at Sinclair, Rutishauser has worked at a variety of companies, ranging from Laura Ashley to Black & Decker to Integrated Health Services. Along the way, she had several female mentors. “They were very tough on me,” she says. “Looking back, I probably learned more under them, because they pushed me all the time.”
Ana Townsend, Designing A Financial Future
MFM’s “Rising Star Person to Watch for 2018” is Ana Townsend, who was recruited in 2017 by Jeana Stanley, Hearst Television’s vice president of finance, to serve as controller for the company’s the broadcast group.
Townsend, an assistant controller at Bonten Media Group, caught Stanley’s attention because of her contributions to MFM. “It was exciting to watch someone get engaged and jump in and really want to move an initiative forward.”
Townsend also has the mix of personality and leadership skills that make people want to work with her, Stanley says. “She has presence in a room and confidence. But at the same time, she’s very mindful that there are a lot of folks around her that have been doing their job for a long time.”
Townsend is a “bundle of energy,” notes Deb Donaldson, who was Bonten’s controller. “She finished her MBA when she first started at Bonten. And after that she studied for her CPA, all while she was working fulltime. Her work ethic is incredible.”
While Townsend says she never had a formal mentor, she gained a number of important insights from Donaldson and Scott Moody, who was COO and CFO at Bonten. Their tips include Moody’s advice to “Get outside the four walls that you call your office.”
“Getting out” can take different forms, Townsend says. “One is to get out of your office and get in front of other people in your organization.”
It also means networking. “Attend events and make friends,” Townsend recommends.
Bill Scanlon, Stoking The Growth At ThriveHive
Bill Scanlon is SVP-CFO of ThriveHive, a Gatehouse Media unit focusing on the digital marketing needs of small and medium-sized businesses.
“ThriveHive is really Gatehouse’s look into the future,” explains Steve Hall, Gatehouse’s VP, finance for the U.S. central division. “We’ve reached out to a lot of our advertising customers and asked them, ‘What are the challenges that you face?’ There were common themes that we heard from them. So, we’re trying to evolve ThriveHive to meet a lot of those needs.”
A company-wide challenge for Scanlon has been a new Oracle workflow system for use by all of the publisher’s operations people. ThriveHive’s CEO, Peter Cannone, explains that that the backend project has been massive. “Bill led that entire project, and it came in on budget and on time – which for something of that magnitude was an impressive accomplishment.”
Michael Roback, Creating An e-Sports Business Model
Representing a field with increasing importance for the media industry is Michael Roback, controller at Activision Blizzard’s Major League Gaming division, which created the Overwatch League among other esports holdings.
“[Overwatch] means a bunch of new transactions; a bunch of new deals; a bunch of new parties that we’ll be working with. All of this creates new things that we need to keep our eye on and deal with as they happen, or ideally before they happen,” says James Rock, senior director of SEC reporting and technical accounting for Activision.
“Michael not only has to think like a CFO, whom he reports to, but he also has to think like the CEO, trying to figure out the strategy for driving this industry,” said Richard Taub, SVP of broadcast and digital services at Media Audits International and a past chair of MFM’s board of directors.
“My philosophy is to do things right,” says Roback. Sometimes it takes a little longer. Sometimes you get a little crazy, because it’s not the most popular decision. But I feel like you get respect if you do things right rather than just getting things done.”
Make A Difference In 2018
As you can see, there are many common qualities among this year’s honorees. The field of finance may be where these attributes have been learned and honed, but they will benefit anyone looking to make a difference within their company.
I hope you will join me in saluting them for this well-deserved recognition and encourage you to take advantage of their life lessons as you work to become a person worth watching within your own organization.
Mary M. Collins is president and CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary, the media industry’s credit association. She can be reached at [email protected] and via the association’s LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook sites.