Wonder Women of New York 2022: Wonya Lucas
President & CEO, Crown Media Family Networks
Wonya Lucas has successfully led a number of entertainment brands, from The Weather Channel to TV One to Hallmark Channel. Some might say her Wonder Women recognition is overdue, but it adds yet another block to the continued build of her impressive personal brand.
“I am continually impressed and inspired by how thoughtful, transparent and authentic Wonya is as a leader,” said Mike Perry, president and CEO of Hallmark Cards, owner of Hallmark Channel parent Crown Media Family Networks. “She cares deeply about people and leads as much from her heart as she does from her incredibly sharp mind, making her the perfect person to helm Crown Media, a company fundamentally rooted in care and love.”
That’s high praise for Lucas, who as a child set her sights on being a teacher like her mother, Rubye. Watching her mom work impressed upon her the impact teachers can have, Lucas said. Television further broadened her horizons.
“Growing up we never left the South, so television took me to places that I couldn’t go to physically and introduced me to people that I didn’t see every day,” she said.
After graduating from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Lucas had her mind set on a career in media. A job interview at consumer product company Clorox changed her perspective.
“They had a position on the entertainment side, but they said to me that while you can always go into the entertainment business, you could never come into the packaged goods business without a marketing background,” she said. “Come learn the nuts and bolts of marketing and then decide what you want to do. It was the best decision I ever made.”
Moving Into Media
She became a brand manager at Clorox and Coca-Cola, learning important operational and leadership skills. In 1994, she had the chance to enter the media business at Turner Broadcasting System, where her mother was then working.
“She was working in community affairs, so I worked there to see if I really wanted to go into the media industry and I loved it,” Lucas said.
Lucas — whose Turner family ties also include her uncle, baseball icon Hank Aaron, who played for the Turner-owned Atlanta Braves — would remain there through 2002, ascending to VP of business operations and network development for TNT and TBS and senior VP of strategic marketing for CNN.
Her father, Bill Lucas, was also in baseball and was a career role model. He was VP of player personnel for the Braves from 1976 until his death in 1979, becoming the first African-American executive to run a Major League Baseball team.
“I wanted to be a general manager like my dad and run a business,” Lucas said.
Lucas would get that opportunity in 2002 as executive VP and general manager of The Weather Channel. “The Weather Channel was when I really shifted into a general manager’s role,” she said. “I loved The Weather Channel and I really learned how to lead.”
Learning How To Lead
She fine-tuned her leadership skills over the next 12 years, in such roles as Discovery Communications chief marketing officer, president and CEO of TV One and president and CEO of Public Broadcasting Atlanta.
In 2020 came the opportunity to run Crown Media, home to one of the most well-known brands in the country, Hallmark Channel. At the time, it was dealing with a very public brand controversy around the lack of diversity and inclusion both on- and off-screen, but Lucas said she was not afraid to meet the challenge head-on.
“My whole career has been working on great brands, and I saw the potential in the brand to be more,” she said. “I watched the Hallmark Hall of Fame movies and I remember seeing Black actors in prominent roles — they were inclusive before I even knew what that word was. It was just a matter of mirroring the brand with initial intent and purpose to be inclusive, whether you’re talking about the [Hallmark] card brand or the media brand. So I saw it as a great opportunity and I felt like there was a lot of room to grow.”
Lucas said the best job title she’s ever had is mom to her two daughters. “I have also been fortunate to have had bosses who understood that [motherhood] is my No. 1 job,” she added.
As for career advice, Lucas said try to work at something that you love, and then position yourself to leverage your best skills within that company. You see, she has never lost the desire to be a teacher. ■
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.