Included in this year’s group of People to Watch chosen annually by the Media Financial Management Association are three from TV: Nexstar’s Tim Busch, NBC Owned Stations’ Christine Dorfler and Fox Sports’ John Charlton.
Five Media Execs Worth Watching In 2013
For the past several years, Media Financial Management Association (MFM) has been recognizing media financial professionals it believes are “People to Watch” in the coming year.
This year’s five honorees include two individuals whose roles at two broadcast station groups will continue to have an industry-wide influence: Tim Busch, EVP-COO, Nexstar Broadcasting Group, and Christine Dorfler, CFO, NBC Owned TV Stations.
Joining them as our 2013 honorees are Stacey Benson, SVP of finance at CBS Radio, John Charlton, EVP of finance, Fox Sports Media Group, and Jean Clifton, EVP-CFO, Dial Global.
All of this year’s People to Watch “show how to exceed expectations and provide a solid underpinning for some very fast-paced companies,” says Janet Stilson, editor of MFM’s The Financial Manager (TFM) magazine. Stilson, who has also covered the industry as a journalist and editor at industry trade publications for more than 20 years, interviewed each honoree for a special section of the publication’s January-February issue.
As part of the effort to shine some well-deserved light on these standouts in the media industry, I’d like to tell you a little about why they were selected by our editorial board. In addition to creating some broader awareness about the caliber of financial management expertise that can be found within media companies, their stories recognize qualities that merit both admiration and emulation.
Like our honorees in past years, our 2013 People to Watch have, as Stilson so aptly summed it up, “consciously learned about areas of the business that go well beyond their area of expertise.”
That’s certainly true for Tim Busch. While Busch’s official title at Nexstar is EVP and COO, his associates at the company view him as the “chief revenue officer,” notes Nexstar’s EVP-CFO Tom Carter. “He does all our revenue reports, and he holds the appropriate people’s feet to the fire that are responsible for the revenue.”
“Tim has an unmatched work ethic and unbridled passion for this business,” observes Perry Sook, the company’s founder, chairman, president and CEO. “He loves what he does and throws himself into it full tilt.”
Sook was a big reason Busch left Gannett Broadcasting to join Nexstar in 2000 as general manager of its WROC Rochester, N.Y. When asked about this, Busch said: “I heard how he would like to create a dynamic for our business where the broadcast industry is viable long-term, and to handle that goes beyond just spot advertising or just dealing with the activities of the day. And secondarily, he would like to be one of the largest midmarket operators in the country, and he’s getting there fast.”
Busch’s arrival at Nexstar coincided with the company’s role in leading the industry’s charge to realize revenues through retransmission consent agreements. It has also been on the forefront of management service agreements, under which it operates stations on behalf of other station companies.
In addition to new acquisitions, “we want to expand our base of localism and create more content,” Busch says, giving the example of The Locker Room, a local show about the Green Bay Packers produced by its WFRV Green Bay, Wis. Beyond that, he is striving to be a better resource to younger staff members. “I want them to be as passionate as I am about the business. I am more excited about it than I ever have been.”
People to Watch honoree Christine Dorfler, CFO of the NBC Owned TV Stations is also regarded for helping to generate revenue as well as reporting it. “The biggest challenge is anticipating how people are going to consume my product three, five, 10, 20 years from now,” Dorfler said in her interview with Stilson.
Dorfler’s boss, Valeri Staab, echoed the importance of Dorfler’s role in strategic planning. “She has to help us figure that out,” the president of NBC’s Owned TV Stations told Stilson.
Dorfler’s experience as a U.S. Army intelligence officer who served in NATO’s operations in Bosnia and Albania uniquely trained her for that task. “She’s not only an expert in her own area of the business but she’s one of those people who are intellectually curious, who will take the time to find out about other parts of this business,” observed Michael Jack, president-GM of WNBC New York, who was her boss when she was VP of finance for the station.
The interests of O&O stations are also important to 2013 Person to Watch John Charlton, EVP of finance for the Fox Sports Media Group, the sports arm of Fox Broadcasting Co. “In the sports media industry, there aren’t that many people that have the kind of visibility that John has,” summed up MFM board member François McGillicuddy, who served as VP, finance and business operations for Fox-owned Speed channel before his recent appointment as SVP-GM of Fox Sports Ohio.
Charlton says his biggest challenge is keeping his finance team aligned with the needs of the Fox Sports division as it continues to evolve. To do that, he counts on seven direct reports and has organized both an operational finance team and a general accounting team. The two-group model is something he originally put in place while in an earlier stint managing finances for Fox Sport’s regional cable properties.
Finance executives in radio round out the remainder of this year’s People to Watch.
Stacey Benson, SVP of finance at CBS Radio was first recognized by her boss, Anton Guitano, COO of CBS Local Media, for her ability to work with the company’s radio stations during a restructuring of the organization that affected its financial organization.
Today, Benson considers her biggest challenge to be free cash flow and hitting the target financial numbers. She says: “Even though I don’t sell, I sit up every night, because I work very closely with the head of sales and think: ‘What can we do differently?’ ”
In addition to sales, Benson also works closely with senior executive management, the CBS corporate staff and both internal and external auditors. “In a tough economy, it’s always hard to manage the balance sheet and collect the money,” says Scott Herman, EVP of operations at CBS Radio. “Stacey does that better than anybody. She uses relationships and works with the [local] markets to help them.”
Person to Watch Jean Clifton is EVP-CFO of Dial Global, which syndicates more than 200 programs to 8,500 radio stations throughout the U.S.
“I’ve never seen such a hard-working executive in my life,” exclaims a source at a private equity firm that has invested in Dial. “Whatever it takes, she doesn’t seem to fatigue,” says another executive, Sterling Baker, president-CEO of Jones & Frank, which specializes in energy infrastructure, and where Clifton served as an interim CFO before taking on her role at Dial Global last year. “I’ve never seen anybody with
a work ethic like she has.”
Clifton’s dedication to the job comes at a crucial, and opportune, time for Dial Global, which is in the process of integrating radio networks resulting from a number of mergers and acquisitions, including Westwood One.
Another goal for Clifton has been to provide visibility into new revenue streams and identify the most profitable aspects of our business. “We’ve never had granular visibility to profitability for each show. Jean did that during a very short period of time, which has helped us with our operational decision making,” reports a colleague at Dial Global.
My summaries barely scratch the surface of the “Amazing Acts on the Media Stage” stories included in the current issue of TFM. I hope you will find a few minutes to read the entire special section which will be available online at MFM’s website.
I also want to take a minute to thank both TFM Editor Janet Stilson for her work in bringing these stories to life and the members of the magazine’s editorial board, who were tasked with selecting this year’s People to Watch from a long list of deserving nominees.
One of our former board members pointed out to me that the finance department contains the unsung heroes of the media industry. She lamented that it’s typically sales and general management that get the glory and attention. And that was before recent research showing that CFOs are now taking responsibilities formerly handled by COOs. They are now holding seats at organizations’ strategic planning tables.
I hope the stories of these five industry leaders both inspire you and provide valuable insights for the coming year. And, if there is someone you think we should have on our radar screen for 2014, please let me know. It’s never too early to begin tracking rising stars.
Mary M. Collins is president and CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary. She can be reached at [email protected]. Her column appears in TVNewsCheck every other week. You can read her earlier columns here.