MFM Confirms The Future Is Female

The organization has made its annual choices of People to Watch, five women who are paving the way for innovation in media and finance.


Mary Collins

Convergence is the rule, not the exception, for entertainment and media (E&M), technology and telecommunications. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Perspectives from the Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2018–2022, the thick borders that once separated these industries are dissolving.

Large access providers and platform companies are integrating vertically, while established giants are integrating horizontally. Companies that once offered only technology and distribution are moving into content. The distinctions between print and digital, video games and sports, wireless and fixed internet access, pay-TV and over-the-top (OTT), social and traditional media are blurring.

In tandem with these changes, another phenomenon has also taken hold, and it is being heralded with this simple phrase, “the future is female.” When the editorial board of TFM, MFM’s member magazine, cast a wide net to discover people we should be keeping an eye on in the coming year, it shouldn’t have surprised us that five accomplished and inspiring women were selected.

TFM editor and TVNewsCheck contributor Janet Stilson interviewed each of our honorees for a feature that appears in the January/February 2019 issue of MFM’s member magazine. The profiles that follow are based on that article and reveal the personal qualities that helped propel our 2019 People to Watch into roles that are critical to the future health of the media industry.

Ilene Cook Anticipating change, building teams, and living the dream. In her role as controller and director of financial accounting with the revered Washington Post (WaPo), Ilene Cook is not just bringing her financial expertise to a business, rather she is contributing to an entire industry. Right now, she is focused on robotics processing, but Cook says she is in her “dream job,” coming up with dozens of ideas all the time. She is excited when even a few of those become actionable.

In nominating her, the Post’s Steve Gibson, vice president and CFO, said, “Ilene plays a vital role in pushing herself and her team to make sure we are plugged into everything that is taking place, and that we have an opportunity to help design how systems and processes around those activities will work.

Cook offers that it is paying attention to the little things that can matter a great deal and she encourages her mentees to be their own best advocates, and not wait for others to recognize their skills.

Veronica Landers Navigating change, finding flexibility, and keeping a focus on what’s important. Veronica Landers, director of credit collections for Meredith’s local media group, developed her leadership qualities while serving as a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps. “From a military perspective, you’ve got to have really good organizational skills and tend to be pretty strategic in your thinking. You follow a sense of chain environment,” she says. Landers used those skills and still found a way to develop business-friendly approaches to working with Meredith’s 17 stations in 14 markets.

According to Kevin James, director of sales at Meredith’s KPHO and KTVK in Phoenix, Landers is structured and process driven, yet she has a genuine interest in finding flexible ways to work with sales in order to increase revenues.

Even as Meredith looks to grow their reach through acquisitions Landers, who was also a funeral director in a past life, believes it is important to be grounded and not lose sight of what’s important in life. She works hard to keep herself from being overwhelmed by ongoing change both at Meredith and in the media industry.

Rebecca Riegelsberger Advancing her career while serving her community. Aptitude, drive, and an ability to leverage technical expertise in a practical business setting are qualities that led to Rebecca Riegelsberger’s role as vice present of tax and treasury at E.W. Scripps, and to her inclusion as a 2019 Person To Watch. At one point, Riegelsberger managed the details of a project that resulted in a tax savings of some $300 million for Scripps Interactive.

Says Doug Lyons, Scripps, senior vice president, controller and treasurer: “She has the ability to grasp (various issues) in human terms and operational terms while operating with a great deal of empathy.”

The mother of twins is also deeply involved in her community and works with The March of Dimes, UpSpring which focuses on homeless children, and the social enterprise Flywheel. She offers, “Appreciating people’s differences has been very impactful for me. There can be a lot of productivity and outcomes.”

Her career advice for those in finance is to be on the lookout for new opportunities. “You need to be your own advocate.”

Jessica WestbyMaintaining calm while reinventing herself for new challenges. Jessica Westby’s business philosophy is “Change is constant, you just need to embrace it.” And that’s what she has done in her role as assistant controller over technology operations, G&A (general and administrative expenses), joint ventures and investments at Turner.

This year Westby was tasked with traveling the globe to centralize Turner’s international accounting functions. That meant she had to glean information from staff members, often working with colleagues who were not slated to be retained by the company. David Yates, Turner’s controller who nominated her as a PTW, says Jessica is a very effective communicator who quickly builds relationships and trust which made her the right person for the job.

Westby’s calm demeanor has been a key asset in her work at Turner. Her colleagues say she is able to take on new challenges, process them in her head and rationalize their feasibility.

Westby, the mother of two girls, recently completed her MBA at Georgia Tech and is readying herself for the new areas of change brought about by the AT&T acquisition of Time Warner, which closed earlier in 2018. Somehow you know she and her team will step up to that challenge as well.

Shereta Williams Communicating value, building teams and solving real problems. Shereta Williams, president of Videa, believes that putting yourself in the shoes of your company executives and helping them solve problems is the best advice she can give others.

In her role, Williams does business with more than 500 stations in 150 markets [Update Jan. 2019: 570 stations in 154 markets] as she grows an automated ad sales platform for TV stations, a business she was instrumental in creating from the ground up for Cox Media Group. The success of Videa, and some of its rivals could result in a more vibrant revenue scenario for broadcast stations across the country.

Emily Barr, president-CEO of Graham Media Group, offers: “When you think about what they’re doing at Videa and how they’re building this platform from nothing, there’s a very complex set of hoops they have to jump through. Shereta is very thoughtful, methodical and strategic.”

Williams says of her many mentors that her parents were the most influential. “They taught me that hard work can overcome almost any disadvantage, and your strength really lies in being true to yourself.”

Make A Difference In 2019

I hope you will join me in saluting this amazing group of female leaders who are paving the way for innovation in media and finance. You can read their full stories in the January/February 2019 issue of TFM. A digital copy of the issue will be available on the MFM website later this month.

Other features include a look at how blockchain can be deployed to smooth revenue transaction processing, a preliminary forecast for 2020 political advertising revenues, and a deep dive into best practices to protect companies against potential harassment claims, along with our regularly scheduled columns. I look forward to sharing some insights from these pieces in future Front Office columns.

Looking into my 2019 crystal ball for our members, the need to tap into new revenue streams is paramount. Change is constant, and the pace of change isn’t going to let up anytime soon as new technologies and innovations bombard the media industry. These are among the topics we will be addressing in future MFM events including our CFO Summit in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in early March, and Media Finance Focus 2019 set for May 20-22 in New Orleans.

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