FRONT OFFICE BY MARY COLLINS

Introducing MFM’s People To Watch In 2014

The Media Financial Management Association’s annual “People to Watch,” honors six individuals whose financial leadership will be instrumental in creating change within the media industry this year. Learning more about this year’s honorees will not only provide an opportunity to be inspired by their examples, it will also allow the broader audience of industry professionals to join us in saluting these outstanding individuals whose roles will help to shape the business of media in the coming year and beyond. 

Earlier this week, MFM announced its top six “People to Watch in 2014.” I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you a little about the four honorees who hold financial management posts at television groups.

Whether you are looking to identify the skills and actions that can help to set you apart, or are tasked with identifying the talent you need for meeting your company’s goals in the coming year, I think you’ll find their stories compelling and interesting.

David Amy, EVP-CFO, Sinclair Broadcast Group, and Secretary, Sinclair Television

When David Amy joined Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBG) 30 years ago, the company operated two TV stations. Today, Sinclair owns and operates, programs or provides sales services to 167 television stations in 77 markets.

“Much of what we’ve been able to accomplish over the years is directly attributable to his style, his way of managing the financial resources,” says Del Parks, the company’s VP of operations and engineering, who’s known Amy for all of those 30 years.

Parks explains that David Smith, president and CEO, is the company’s visionary and knows all of its details. But Amy “steps up and translates that vision into a reality. We all bring things to the table in our own areas, but he’s the conductor of the orchestra.”

BRAND CONNECTIONS

As the pending transactions are finalized, Amy will be orchestrating the blending of the respective company cultures and “putting all the right people together and accommodating the growth,” says Parks. What’s more, “he has to make sure we constantly improve our business processes.”

Whether you are conducting an orchestra or running a business, timing is a very important factor in achieving a harmonious outcome, and Amy has shown his ability to keep to the right beat. In addition to getting out in front of the recession with changes that minimized its impact on the bottom line, Sinclair stayed on the sidelines when private equity companies were snapping up TV station properties at unsustainable cash multiples. It wasn’t until these firms were getting out of the business that the company went into shopping mode.

Now Amy’s planning for something completely different, and it goes beyond absorbing all the new stations. “Our primary focus is on the change in the spectrum strand over to ATSC 3.0. Those changes allow us to increase bandwidth efficiency and compression performance and build out a mobile platform and mobile video that the consumer is looking for,” Amy says.

Julie Heskett, VP of Finance, Gannett Broadcasting

Orchestrating the blending of several company cultures and processes into an efficient and harmonious financial performance is also one of the challenges for another of our 2014 People to Watch honorees. As VP of finance for Gannett Broadcasting, Julie Heskett has been on the frontlines of the company’s acquisition of Belo’s TV stations.

“It’s been her task to get us to opening day and the first 60 to 90 days,” says Dave Lougee, president of Gannett Broadcasting. While he’s setting the strategic vision, he says Heskett is focused on several “heavy lifting” issues, not the least of which involves integrating the two companies’ financial and traffic systems.

“She has the ability to take on almost any project, and her involvement makes it have an even better result,” says Heskett’s former boss, Lynn Beal, who is EVP of Gannett Broadcasting as well as president-GM of its KSDK St. Louis.

In addition to how well she adapts to a job that “continues to grow by leaps and bounds,” Lougee notes that Heskett has a certain character trait that sets her apart from many others in similar roles. “She’s always positive. She always has a smile on her face. A lot of very good financial managers are worriers by nature. Worrying can sometimes produce the unintended consequence of pessimism,” he says.

Jeana Stanley, VP of Finance, Hearst Television

Another of our people to Watch in 2014, Jeana Stanley, is also tackling an assignment that requires the ability to orchestrate change effectively. As VP of finance at Hearst Television, she has been busy overseeing the finance team’s switch to a shared services system over the last few years.

“She’s done a terrific job at standardizing some of our practices and making what we do best at some of our stations common practice for the company,” says Jordan Wertlieb, president of Hearst Television.

Added Wertlieb, “I think one of Jeana’s strengths is that she understands local television involves localism. You can standardize business practices and policies, but you’ve got to be cognizant of the local nuance of the market. That’s what makes them special. And she has struck that balance beautifully.”

There are plenty of priorities for her moving forward as well. “Building on the successes of our changes over the past few years, Jeana will make a significant contribution to further enhance the analytical and operational services we provide to our stations,” says John Drain, SVP of finance at Hearst TV, who nominated her as a 2014 Person to Watch.

David Yates, Controller, Turner Broadcasting

Leadership during a time of significant change to the organization is also what made David Yates stand out from his peers. He is on the team responsible for creating a shared services environment at Turner Broadcasting, which has grown from an independent UHF station in Atlanta to encompass more than 100 TV network brands in 200 counties across the globe.

Yates is Turner’s controller over the technology, operations, SG&A (selling, general and administrative activities) as well as investment accounting areas. “He has a peer group of 10 of what I would call controllers within our organization, and I would put him at the top, just in his ability to strategically guide his set of responsibilities,” says Cindy Pekrul, VP and deputy controller for Turner’s accounting center of excellence (CoE), as the shared services organization is known.

What helped Yates to stand apart was being instrumental in helping another Time Warner division adapt the business model that the CoE had developed. “That’s the first time that we as a company did that,” Pekrul explains. “It really takes a skill set. Granted you’re within the Time Warner family, but you’re working with a brand new organizational group of people — almost similar to an acquisition.”

Yates’ contribution to that process has helped “set the foundation for additional responsibilities in 2014 and 2015,” Pekrul adds. That’s one of the reasons she nominated him as a Person to Watch this year.

Cumulus Media’s Julian Young and A.H. Belo’s Jewel Williams

Our remaining People to Watch in 2014 come from other media industry groups: Julian Young, VP and controller of Cumulus Media, one of the largest radio companies in America, and Jewel Williams, director of revenue accounting for A.H. Belo Corp.’s The Dallas Morning News.

I hope you will make time to read all six profiles, in the current issue of MFM’s The Financial Manager magazine, available online at MFM’s website.

I want to take a minute to thank TFM Editor Janet Stilson for applying her knowledge from covering the industry for nearly 30 years into their stories, which I have excerpted for this summary.

In addition, I would like to acknowledge the hard work of the magazine’s editorial board, which had the daunting task of selecting this year’s People to Watch from a long list of deserving nominees.

Thanks to both of these efforts, we have the inspiring examples set by six outstanding individuals. I hope that, as I did, you take away some thoughts about how you can be a better leader, a person to watch, in the coming year.

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.


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