Lessons in business – and life – from a media giant

By David French

Frank Bennack served as CEO of media conglomerate Hearst Corporation for nearly 30 years. Under his watch, Hearst grew exponentially, launched the A&E, History and Lifetime cable networks, and invested in the ESPN family of sports networks. In his recently published memoir Leave Something on the Table, he offered several nuggets of wisdom in building a profitable, purposeful career:

Office politics has harmed more companies than their most evil competitors. Never have we been at a time when it was more important that leaders put a high priority on culture. Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” There’s nothing else in a company that is as important.

The other person doesn’t have to lose for you to win. When the chips are down, I always try to make that call in a way that is fair and recognizes the position of the counterparty, whether it’s an employee, a partner, or whoever is might be. It’s not only polite; it’s good business.

Journalism is indispensable to our society. Maybe after the clergy, there’s no higher calling. It’s not a walk in the park. It’s always been a challenge. People thought radio would kill newspapers, that TV would kill radio, and that cable would kill all three, but they’re still here. There will be a lot of readers of magazines and newspapers, viewers of TV and listeners of radio for a long time to come.

Optimism and a positive attitude are very powerful, particularly for leaders who have tough jobs. If they don’t approach it with an upbeat attitude, it’s very contagious. I love it when there’s a loud noise in the cafeteria or in the halls. You know that people have had a score of some kind or something good has happened to them.

People who pride themselves on being able to get by on little sleep are kidding themselves. Make rest a part of your life. I’m going to rest when it’s time to rest. I’m not going to let a too-difficult day get me to the point where I toss and turn all night. I’m going to say, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

Once in a while, “disconnect” and think. Put down the paper, put down the book, turn off the TV, sit and think things over: “What have I missed? What’s the next most important thing for me to do, not only for my company but for my family and for society? Have I done anything today that makes it better? If I haven’t, I’d better double up tomorrow.”