Great Calm in the Face of Industry Storm

NAME: Christa D’Alimonte
TITLE: Executive VP, General Counsel and Secretary

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Partner and deputy practice group leader at Shearman & Sterling’s Global M&A Group, advising media clients such as Viacom and NBCUniversal. Joining Viacom in 2012 and assuming her current role in 2017.

QUOTABLE: “My dad is a lawyer, my mom went to law school … although I don’t think it was what I always wanted to do. If I’m honest with myself, I probably went to college thinking I would be a doctor or a medical researcher of some sort. Then chemistry happened.”

When you ask folks about Viacom executive vice president, general counsel and secretary Christa D’Alimonte, the terms “creative,” “unflappable,” “collaborative” and “thoughtful” get used a lot. And in today’s topsy-turvy media environment, those are very good traits to have.

Creighton Condon, senior partner at Shearman & Sterling, the New York M&A law firm that was D’Alimonte’s first home after graduating from Georgetown University Law Center, would add a few more to the list.

“She just has exceptional judgment, especially under fire and under pressure,” Condon said. “She can really stay focused and keep that thoughtfulness even under intense pressure. She’s great with teams — she ran a number of really large, complicated transactions across multiple practice groups with 30, 40, 50 lawyers. She treats everyone with respect, is very good at training people and at keeping the team all pulling in the same direction.”

D’Alimonte credits her demeanor to mentors who have helped guide her in her career over the years.

“I could identify four or five people who have had the most influence,” D’Alimonte said. “They’ve all shown me how you remain calm and levelheaded in the face of what can feel like incredibly stressful and difficult decisions in the moment [and having] the perspective and judgment to appreciate that, for the most part, what I’m doing is not life-and-death decisions.”

Shaping Strategic Priorities for Future Growth
As Viacom’s chief lawyer, D’Alimonte not only steers the programmer’s legal strategy, she also plays a big role in shaping the company’s strategic priorities to revitalize its brands and position its key lines of business for future growth. D’Alimonte is more than up to the task, with over 20 years as a top dealmaker for Shearman & Sterling under her belt, where she worked transactions with major clients such as Viacom and NBCUniversal.

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D’Alimonte’s first media deal as an associate at Shearman & Sterling was representing Viacom in the sale of its publishing unit Simon & Schuster and included the sale of its Blockbuster arm in 2004 and the 2005 split of Viacom and CBS. She joined Viacom in 2012 as senior VP and assistant secretary under longtime Viacom general counsel Michael Fricklas. Five years later, when Fricklas announced his retirement, D’Alimonte was tapped to take his place.

For D’Alimonte, the job isn’t just the law; being a successful general counsel also requires great strategic expertise.

“An enormous part of my job is … bringing 25 years of business experience and legal experience and judgment to bear on all sorts of issues that face the company,” D’Alimonte said. “I obviously look at things from a legal perspective, but it’s not just walking into a room and providing a narrow legal answer to questions. I always have to be thinking of broader business considerations and practical considerations as well.”

D’Alimonte’s Viacom journey took her through the CBS split, a watershed moment for the media business that helped lead to other pureplay separations such as Time Warner Cable and Time Warner Inc. Now the industry itself is facing a crossroads: With an ad market in decline and new over-the-top players entering the market and disrupting the existing distribution model, pay TV networks, and Viacom in particular, have faced tough choices.

Viacom has been affected by the storm more than many — its younger-skewing demographic has quickly adopted new content distribution technologies that at times bypass traditional revenue streams. The result: Ratings declines and ad revenue erosion across the pay TV board. But D’Alimonte and Viacom aren’t throwing in the towel.

“I look at it as a time of great opportunity for us,” D’Alimonte said. “It’s led to some exciting partnerships and new business ideas here. While it may be a little bit unsettling at times to be in an industry that is changing, I think you have to embrace that disruption and the opportunities it presents.”

Embracing Viacom’s Shift in Focus
Viacom CEO Bob Bakish, who assumed that role in late 2016, took the bull by the horns quickly, embarking on a bold new path last year to concentrate on six core brands — Nickelodeon, Nickelodeon Jr., MTV, BET, Comedy Central and the Paramount Network (a rebranded Spike TV). While Viacom would continue to sell its 18 other networks to distributors, the focus would remain on the core and developing new revenue streams outside of traditional advertising and affiliate fees.

“Christa is an exceptional executive and a key member of the senior team guiding Viacom’s strategy to position our business for the future,” Bakish said. “Not only is she collaborative, creative and an incisive problem solver, she’s an absolute pleasure to work with. We’re incredibly fortunate to have her as our general counsel.”

D’Alimonte said Bakish enlisted the help and the input of all his divisional and corporate executives in developing the new plan.

“One of the great things about Bob is he’s an incredibly collaborative and transparent leader,” D’Alimonte said. “From the moment he started, even as acting CEO and president, he convened a broad group of leaders across the company. That’s continued now that he’s been permanent CEO. He has a broad senior leadership team of which I am a part, and we all contribute in different ways to where the company is going.”