More Than a Numbers Cruncher

When Jack Sander, Belo Corp.'s former president of media operations, met Dunia Shive for the first time, he was amazed to learn that she had never worked in a newsroom. During a day-long debriefing on Belo's newest acquisition, the Providence Journal Co. in 1997, Shive, then the company's VP of finance, constantly whispered in Sander's ear a steady stream of details about the newspaper's operations and business potential.

“Everything she said was right on,” Sander says. “She knew where we needed to focus the business. She wasn't just a numbers cruncher.”

Indeed, Shive, 45, has number- crunched her way to the top of one of the country's largest station groups—one of only three women who currently hold such a position. Last month, Belo named her president of media operations, putting her in charge of its TV stations and most of its newspapers. (Sander will serve as corporate vice chairman until he retires at the end of the year.)

Given her background as an accountant, Shive's climb is anomalous in a business where most station-group heads were former news directors or general managers who had started out selling ad time for local stations.

But while she may not have approved a story lineup for the late news, she knows exactly what is required to get the product on-air. Over the past dozen years, starting as controller and rising to chief financial officer, she has mapped out budgets for nearly every Belo unit and investigated every potential deal.

A Flurry of Deals

The daughter of immigrants from Syria and Lebanon, Shive was raised near Austin, Texas, and later majored in accounting at Texas Tech University.

She landed her first job in 1982 as an audit manager at Arthur Young & Company, where Belo was one of her clients. As one of the company's outside auditors, Shive worked with Belo's Texas TV stations and the Dallas Morning News. After a brief stint as an assistant controller at Tyler Corp., she parlayed her Belo contacts into an in-house position there as corporate controller.

As the company started gobbling up stations and newspapers in the mid 1990s, Shive worked on a flurry of deals, digging into properties, finances and contracts—experience, she says, that was crucial to learning the workings of the business.

“You need to understand the revenue, the growth, the expenses, a station's market position and its ratings,” she says. Shive weighs all of these factors in determining the answer to what she says is the ultimate question: “What would this station look like in the Belo family?”

One deal that Shive was intimately involved in was Belo's 1994 purchase of New Orleans' WWL, the CBS affiliate that would later earn national recognition when it stayed on the air and streamed its newscasts online during Hurricane Katrina.

Shive remembers examining the station's financial profile and being awestruck by its strong ratings and revenue. Even more striking, she said, was WWL's strong relationship with the New Orleans community.

“The legacy of that station has held on for so long,” she says, “and its position of strength is impressive.”

As she climbed the executive ranks at Belo, Shive continued to make such fact-finding trips, spending weeks at a time in local markets at the urging of Sander and Belo Chairman Robert Decherd. In Seattle, she tagged along with a KING reporter for a courthouse story and watched the production from the news truck. She sat in on sales and marketing meetings and even crashed editorial meetings, where she observed the stations' newsmaking in action and came away impressed.

The company's journalism, she says, has always been top notch.

“Most of our stations are rated No. 1 or No. 2 in their markets,” she notes. As the station group's top executive, Shive is looking to spread that success through new platforms, pushing for Belo to develop more broadband and interactive applications.

Next Generation of Station Operator

To that end, Shive has headed up a futures committee made up of senior executives to investigate new business opportunities for Belo's newspapers and TV stations, such as digital-broadcast applications and developing the Web sites.

Sanders praises Shive's exploration of new platforms, as well as her firm grasp of the technology. “She is thinking about multimedia and multiplatform,” he says, describing her as a “prototype of the next generation of station operator.”

While Shive says new digital offerings will help Belo expand its TV business, she is not as bullish about acquiring additional stations. After a quiet period, the TV-station market has surged in the past six months, with sales reaching as high as 13-14 times cash flow.

But the accountant in Shive has a hard time making sense of those numbers. With such high multiples, she says, “that is difficult to make work in an environment where the business is already mature.”

For now, Shive remains focused on building upon the fundamentals of the business that she learned in her former life in finance.

“We believe in providing quality news and information,” she says. “Our long-term strategy is to be leaders in our markets and our communities, and that is how you build value.”