He's a gypsy no more

For years, Whitney Goit was quite a gypsy. After leaving the Navy, he worked in Mexico, drove a snow cat in Colorado, tended bar in San Francisco. Then he started taking more-serious jobs: did marketing for a health-food retail startup, opened a chain of wine stores, pushed chemical products, sold radio advertising.

He has done little wandering since then, though, even becoming a fixture at A&E Networks. Starting in the earliest days of the network, Goit has worked not just at the same company but largely in the same department: advertising sales.

How did such a gypsy put down such deep roots? He notes an affection for A&E and CEO Nick Davatzes but also asks "Have you met Irene?" referring to his wife. After his second marriage, in 1987, stability became more important than adventure. "Right about the time the best opportunities came my way, the children came along," Goit says. "Then we were moving out to the suburbs, then from a modest house to a bigger house."

Other media executives have had Goit on his way to early retirement. In the mid '90s, Goit believed he might ascend to A&E Network's top spot if Davatzes left. He had graduated from ad sales and taken over international expansion and consumer products.

But Davatzes, 60, signaled in 1999 that he planned to stay. "It became clear three years ago that Nick was going to stick it out," says Goit. "If I wanted to be a CEO somewhere, I better get on with it."

Instead, when Ron Schneier, his successor as head of ad sales, left, Goit put ad sales back in his portfolio, in part to maintain some stability in a rocky ad market. "I had been out of ad sales for three years. The market's a whole lot different."

More stability. That puts Goit a long way from his youth. The son of a magazine ad salesman, he faced the draft after college and joined the Navy, serving in the Naval Advisory Group, whose task was to work closely with the Vietnamese military. He describes it as the Navy arm depicted in Apocalypse Now.

In his wanderings after discharge, he moved to Aspen to be a ski bum, where he met Ken Robertson, an entrepreneur starting a chain of health-food stores, a fringe concept in 1970. "He told me, 'You can't waste a Dartmouth education.'"

Goit took a job doing market research, which he knew nothing about, for Robertson's Udyco Industries—after Robertson sent him to Brooks Brothers for four suits and four shirts.

After the health-food chain got rolling, Goit hit on a similar idea, a retail chain selling California wines. With backing from Robertson and others, he leased a corner of Montgomery Ward department stores in a few states. That flopped.

He eventually wandered to New York City and Harrington, Righter & Parsons, a rep firm that approached national advertisers on behalf of radio stations around the country. It was the first step on a career path, leading to another rep firm and then to Warner Amex Cable, at the time the biggest cable operator.

When that operation was moving to Philadelphia, Goit was approached by A&E, the product of two failing arts networks: ABC and Hearst's ARTS and Rockefeller Group's The Entertainment Channel. "They were put together in the faint hope that two wrongs would make a right," he says. "The partners, if they were honest, would probably tell you that they didn't give us high odds for success."

Dumping classical music and ballet in favor of light documentaries proved a winner. Goit sees his current task as reviving A&E's ad sales, which dropped 10% last year, and further driving the History Channel, whose ad sales are still growing. "That's probably a two-year assignment to get it where I want."