TITLE: Senior Vice President for Business and Legal Affairs
COMPANY: Discovery Communications
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Jointly lead deal-making and legal production team for Discovery Channel’s Harley and the Davidsons; led deal-making and acquisition for Discovery’s global documentary Racing Extinction; served as key business and legal affairs executive on corporate joint-venture deals involving Hasbro, OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network and Travel Channel.
QUOTABLE: “A strong dedication to your values along with a commitment and belief in your personal and professional life goes a long way toward establishing yourself as a woman that can be recognized and appreciated.”
Lisa Williams-Fauntroy has dutifully served as Discovery Communications’s legal warrior for nearly 20 years. Though she currently manages business and legal affairs matters for Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and Science Channel, Williams-Fauntroy during her career has worked behind the scenes for nearly every Discovery-owned network, negotiating complex deals relating to defamation, publicity, privacy and copyright issues.
In her formative years, though, Williams-Fauntroy wanted to be in front of the camera, the 2017 Wonder Women honoree said.
“I wanted to be a broadcast journalist,” she said. “I loved to write and I loved to talk ... my parents would cosign on that. I was news editor of my high school newspaper; I enjoyed photography; I was a news junkie.”
Growing up in Washington, D.C., with two brothers, Williams-Fauntroy said her parents — both professors at Howard University — were her biggest inspirations. Also serving as a role model to Williams-Fauntroy in the early 1980s was a then up-and-coming talk show host named Oprah Winfrey.
COMMUNICATIONS LAW BECKONED
“She was on the air in Baltimore when I grew up, so I feel like I had a chance to see her before she moved to Chicago and before she became as grand as she is,” she said. “For a young black girl, to see her on TV then was incredibly inspiring and encouraging.”
Smitten by the journalism bug, Williams-Fauntroy attended Syracuse University’s prestigious Newhouse School, majoring in broadcast journalism. But her studies would soon lead her to another calling.
“I loved my communications law class as a sophomore at Syracuse,” she fondly recalls. “Other people thought it was weird, but I geeked out over it and I decided to go to law school.”
Williams-Fauntroy would earn a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1994 before landing a job at the D.C. communications and entertainment law firm Roberts & Eckard (now Davis Wright Tremaine LLP).
“It was a great first start for me and I was very hand-son,” she said. “It wasn’t a big, shiny-floor corporate firm. It was more of a small, boutique firm where I got a lot of great experience.”
After two and a half years at the firm, she would take that experience to the legal department at Discovery Channel, then an emerging network.
“I think one of the benefits that I had was that there weren’t a lot of entertainment law firms in D.C., but my small firm had an entertainment law practice,” she said.
Williams-Fauntroy started at Discovery in 1997 as one of the most junior members of the legal department. It didn’t take her long to climb up the network’s corporate ladder. Marc Grab-off, Discovery Communications’s president of Global Business & Legal Affairs, PMD and Studios — to whom Williams-Fauntroy reports — called her a role model for people coming up within the organization and a future industry leader.
“Lisa is clearly the wonder woman of Discovery Channel as far as the business and legal affairs group is concerned,” Graboff said. “She’s a creative deal-maker — when she has deals in front of her that have difficulty being made, she comes up with creative solutions to get it done. That’s a skillset that not everyone has.”
Added Williams-Fauntroy: “I had the opportunity to grow within Discovery. I’ve had an amazing opportunity to grow and evolve with the business.”
She attributed much of her success to great mentors such as former Roberts & Eckard partner Linda Eckard, former Discovery executive Doug Coblens, and former BET executive Maurita Coley, all of whom nurtured her through positive career moments, as well as difficult times.
Williams-Fauntroy is now a very active mentor herself, becoming a leader in Discovery’s MentorNet, a structured program that allows employees to apply for an in-house company mentor.
“I think mentoring for me as a beneficiary and mentoring for me as someone who can mentor others is invaluable and critical for so many purposes and cannot be underestimated,” she said.
She also serves as co-chair and executive sponsor for Discovery’s Black Cultural Alliance, comprised of more than 80 employees within the company. Along with mentoring up-and-coming young executives, Williams-Fauntroy said the BCA over the years has developed events and projects within Discovery that “recognize the importance of diversity in our content and in our employee base.”
ON BOARD AT NAMIC
She’s also mentoring industry executives through the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications and currently sits on the diversity organization’s board.
Despite her busy schedule, Williams-Fauntroy makes sure to spend quality time with her husband Michael and her 9-year-old twins, Brett and Logan. Every so often, she finds time to indulge in her guilty pleasures of photography and watching music videos.
“I have a robust life,” she said “It’s like a pie of pizza with lots of slices and you want to give 100% to all of those slices.”
Her ability to effectively balance her work and home life has impressed many executives around her, including Michelle Rice, NAMIC board of directors chair and executive VP of content distribution and marketing for TV One. “I truly admire how effortlessly she seems to keep all the balls in the air,” Rice said. “This is no easy task for Lisa, who manages a busy East Coast-West Coast travel schedule, a demanding career, a young family and serves on multiple committees on the NAMIC board.”
Despite her lengthy and impressive list of accomplishments, Williams-Fauntroy said she hasn’t quite given up on her on-air aspirations.
“I was able to marry the areas of law and media,” she said. “The only thing I need to do now is to have my own TV show and I’d be happy.”
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.
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