These three noteworthy leaders — Deborah Donaldson, Neal Kirsch and Jasmin Dorismond — not only deserve our recognition; they also show the way each of us can become a better leader and person to watch in our own right in the coming year.
Introducing MFM’s ‘People to Watch’ In 2015
Earlier this week, MFM – the Media Financial Management Association announced our “People to Watch in 2015.”
I would like to take this opportunity to tell you a little about this year’s three honorees — Deborah Donaldson, VP-corporate controller for Bonten Media Group; Neal Kirsch, COO-CFO for OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network; and Jasmin Dorismond, VP-corporate controller for Lotus Media’s radio station group.
As we begin the New Year, their stories can be helpful in understanding what can make each of us a “person to watch” whether it’s at a TV station or across an entire organization.
Janet Stilson, editor of MFM’s The Financial Manager magazine, interviewed each honoree for a special section of the publication’s January-February issue, which is distributed to our members and will be available for downloading via MFM’s website.
Stilson, who has also covered the industry as a journalist and editor at industry trade publications for more than 25 years, was struck by the realization that the stories of each year’s honorees present us with new information about what it takes to be an effective leader in the media business.
In summarizing what she learned from the lessons of this year’s class, she said it includes “taking the time to see a company’s big picture and create new ideas for growth — to really become a business partner in one’s organization.”
These three industry executives’ stories also demonstrate that career advancements can require us to get out of our comfort zones and can sometimes involve making a leap in a sideways direction. “When upward mobility isn’t an option within a particular media company, a lateral move allows team players to learn new aspects of the business that will prime them for more impressive roles down the line,” Stilson explains.
That approach was certainly the case for Neal Kirsch, who joined Discovery Communications’ international division around 20 years ago. During this time, the division grew to the point that it generates over half of the company’s total revenue, which amounts to more than $3 billion.
Kirsch, who had advanced from his first role as a project manager to executive vice president and CFO of Discovery’s 14 U.S. networks, was instrumental in bootstrapping that growth, most notably by helping the company build facilities all over the globe.
“By getting in on the ground floor, my view was, ‘I’ll do anything they ask,’ because there was always opportunity. I believe in raising my hand and taking advantage of opportunity,” Kirsch tells our readers. His latest example of following that advice happened about two years ago, when Kirsch raised his hand to help ignite OWN, as its COO and CFO.
Kirsch’s actions would be akin to moving from a senior leadership position at a major TV station group in order to manage one of its stations or new media businesses. He explained his decision saying: “When you work in a corporate role, you learn a lot, but you never get into the day-to-day running of the business. This gave me an opportunity to take a much more hands-on approach to helping to make business decisions.”
Like Kirsch, Deborah Donaldson was moving into new territory when she joined station group owner Bonten Media Group in June 2010, her first job at a media company. While she may have lacked experience in television, Donaldson brought to Bonten not only the business acumen she acquired from her earlier stints at companies specializing in tax matters, corporate accounting and banking, but also the ability to get the job, whatever it was, done.
As Scott Moody, CFO of Bonten observed: “If there’s a problem area, whether it’s an upgrade to a financial system or reworking the process of how we do things, Deb will break it down in a very disciplined way and wrestle it to the ground. And she’s done that time and time again.”
Changes Donaldson has helped to bring about within the company include reducing the monthly close process in its markets from 10 business days to three, reducing the year-end audit by six weeks and helping one of Bonten’s holdings to operate with about 25% of the cash on hand that used to be required.
Donaldson says she’s particularly proud of the work she’s done at Bonten to streamline processes and help people “use their brains rather than doing busywork.”
She has also been instrumental in getting each station’s controllers more invested in the business outcomes of their individual markets by learning aspects of the business, such as understanding pricing inventory and determining what market share their station should be getting, so they’re of more help to account executives and general managers.
As Donaldson herself explains, “We think of our controllers as the general managers’ right hand person, someone who helps from the business side to bring things to a GM’s attention and move the business forward.”
Through industry involvement, her ability to tackle problems and improve results is also having an industry-wide impact. Alixandra Steier, director of broadcaster relations at the TV Music Licensing Committee counts Donaldson among her organization’s board members. While all of them are busy people that help out the best they can, she goes the extra mile “to make sure we got things done,” Steier recalls.
Looking to 2015, Bonten’s Moody believes “whether the next 12 months means integrating an acquisition or monetizing new digital properties, those challenges will be executed better through Deb’s clear thinking and her ability to lead a top performing team.”
Similar to Deb Donaldson, Lotus Media’s Jasmin Dorismond applied the knowledge she acquired from outside the media industry toward solutions for improving the company’s financial operations and seizing new market opportunities. These skills have been particularly important for Lotus, which grew from 19 radio stations to 34, making it one of the largest privately held radio station groups in the U.S. The company also has two low-power TV stations and six e-commerce sites.
Lotus’s CFO Bill Shriftman says of Dorismond: “She’s well versed in computer systems and the latest and greatest software. Any area of the company that needs her, she’s there, scoping it out, setting up the systems for the operational people.”
One example of her systems and software savvy is Dorismond’s role in Lotus’s beta test of Marketron’s Mediascape platform, which allowed the company to consolidate the reporting of information about its media properties.
Reflecting on her accomplishments Dorismond observes: “One of the things that I pride myself on is leveraging technology where I can so that we can create efficiencies throughout our organization.”
The top items on her “to-do” list for 2015 include introducing new measures designed to improve cash flow. “We’re trying to make it easier for clients to pay us, whether through merchant services, mobile technology, and also streamlining AP processes and electronic reimbursement.”
Stilson’s profiles of these three noteworthy leaders include more information on the life lessons and advice that has helped to shape them into our “People to Watch” in 2015. I encourage you to make the time to read their inspiring stories. When you do, I know you will agree that they not only deserve our recognition; they also show the way each of us can become a better leader and person to watch in our own right 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.