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Working Toward Common Goals

Jan 24, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Not too long after being named executive VP of the newly merged NBC Universal Television Distribution last May, Frederick Huntsberry did something that had never been done before: He gathered all of his key managers into a single room to discuss strategy.

It was an unusual move, but Mr. Huntsberry saw it as a necessity. It meant that everyone he managed within the organization had to be on the same page when it came to goals and objectives-something that was all the more important given that NBC Universal Television Distribution was the result of the combination of distribution operations from NBC and Vivendi Universal Entertainment, the two entertainment operations that merged last May in a $14 billion deal.

People who attended those first few meetings admitted that at first the idea of rounding up everyone from marketing to sales to corporate communications was a new and somewhat strange concept. For some managers, it was the first time they had met people within the organization who worked on other aspects of the same television shows they were involved with.

But the outcome was exactly what Mr. Huntsberry had hoped. Now everyone who touches a particular show understands his or her role in the broader context of the organization.

“It allowed every manager to understand how their contribution translates to the larger goal,” Mr. Huntsberry said of the meetings, which are now held monthly to judge the performance of the various programs distributed both domestically and internationally. “Now managers are seeing how this process translates into improved performance, and it provides a platform for everyone to bring up ideas.”

“Transparency” is a term Mr. Huntsberry uses a lot when describing his management style, and one he sees as the linchpin to any organization’s success. As he sees it, his job is to empower his lieutenants with the tools they need to get their jobs done.

“We have no trademarks to fall back on [as a media company],” he said. “Our assets walk out of the door every day and come back the next morning.”

Said Barry Wallach, president of NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution: “He definitely brought a refreshing way of looking at things by looking at what the business opportunities are. In facilitating a lot of those meetings, it brought the chance for people to get to know each other and know what everyone else is doing.”

In many ways, Mr. Huntsberry is a bit of a hybrid. Though he is responsible for NBCU’s television distribution efforts, he cut his teeth in finance, spending 12 years at General Electric before jumping into the entertainment business in 1997, starting first as Universal Studios’ VP of television business development before ultimately advancing to become chief financial officer of VUE.

In addition to running NBCU’s television distribution operation, Mr. Huntsberry until last week was the chief financial officer of NBCU Television Group. He gave up the finance position temporarily to serve as interim president and chief operating officer of Universal Pictures, filling in for Rick Finkelstein, who was seriously injured in a December skiing accident in Colorado.

Mr. Huntsberry, like many executives at GE, worked in several divisions within the conglomerate, including industrial, medical, plastics and information services.

“It was a wonderful way to learn how finance has a role,” Mr. Huntsberry said, adding that he learned from those experiences that “the DNA of the finance function is the same,” and that the CFO “must be a close partner with the CEO.”

Despite technically not having a financial role at NBCU at present, finance is very much on Mr. Huntsberry’s mind as he manages his businesses. Indeed, Mr. Huntsberry and others readily admit that his background in finance comes in handy, particularly when looking at revenue opportunities in TV distribution, which these days includes DVD sales, pay-per-view, video-on-demand and international sales-all contributing to a much more complicated revenue picture compared with 10 years ago, when the television distribution model was simpler.

But it’s not something that prevents Mr. Huntsberry from enjoying his job. While his position is likely to evolve with the television distribution model as new technologies facilitate new ways to deliver content, Mr. Huntsberry said he is fortunate to work in a company with a streamlined decision-making process and with a team of lieutenants who are clear on their directives.

“This is one of the greatest places to work,” he said. “My responsibility is making sure that everyone knows their goals and that I help them get there.”



FREDERICK HUNTSBERRY

Title: Executive VP, NBC Universal Television Distribution; interim president and chief operating officer, Universal Pictures

Work history: Previously executive VP and chief financial officer of Vivendi Universal Entertainment after holding senior VP and CFO titles at Universal Studios Television and Networks Group and then Universal Studios. Joined Universal in 1997 as VP of television business development after spending 12 years at General Electric; his last position there was manager of European mergers and acquisitions.

Personal: Married; enjoys boating.