The word “measured” gets used a lot when people describe Tony Vinciquerra, Chairman and CEO of Fox Networks Group. In fact, he never gets too excited about anything, according to FX Networks President and General Manager John Landgraf. “I've never seen him ebullient at good news, and he never gets depressed at bad news,” Landgraf says.
Vinciquerra—or Tony V., as many know him—isn't the least bit surprised by Landgraf's comments. “That's intentional,” Vinciquerra says during an interview in his office on the Fox lot. He works down the hall from the Los Angeles office of News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch, who gave Vinciquerra added responsibility in March, making him News Corp.'s highest-ranking TV executive.
Vinciquerra's measured approach is one of several ideals he formed early in his career selling radio and TV ads in his hometown of Albany, NY. He started selling radio while still at SUNY Albany. Soon after graduation in 1977, he got a job selling TV for WRGB.
Ray Schonbak, VP and GM of KSWB San Diego, hired Vinciquerra for that first TV job and says it was apparent right away that Vinciquerra would have great impact. “There are certain times in your life when you meet someone and go, 'Wow.' His presence, how smart he was, his abilities were just obvious,” Schonbak says. “His learning curve was super-fast and he started delivering almost immediately.”
Vinciquerra indeed progressed quickly at WRGB—more so than he was prepared for. Through a series of staff changes, he was promoted at age 24 to serve as general sales manager, national sales manager and local sales manager at the same time. He had known hard work since he was a kid, starting at age 9 sweeping up at his Italian immigrant grandfather's barber shop. He shined shoes, dug ditches, built cement benches, cut grass with a scythe, worked in an ice cream parlor and made pizza, all before turning 16. He worked his way through college, too. But this was different.
“I was not prepared by training or experience,” Vinciquerra says of his triple TV duty. “I was a horrible manager. I didn't know what to do when issues would come up.”
He says the stress made him sick; one day, he even considered heaving a phone out the window. So he researched stress management. “I decided at some point in that process to create a relatively narrow window that I would force myself to work within in terms of emotions,” he says, “to not get really overexcited about things. If you get overexcited, you'll do the opposite; people [overcompensate].
“That's what I've done throughout my career,” he adds. “I think it's one of the things that have helped me get through the trials and tribulations.”
Vinciquerra's rare ability to so consistently keep his cool has come in handy as he's been promoted quickly several times since those days in Albany. Most recently, he joined News Corp. in December 2001 as president of Fox Television Network and was named president/CEO of Fox Networks Group in June 2002. He was named chairman in September 2008 and took over Fox's international channels the following spring.
Before joining Fox, he was COO of Hearst-Argyle Television, a post he likewise zoomed to. Before he went to Hearst for that run (he spent much of his early career at The Hearst Corp.), he was executive VP of CBS's TV station group. Before that, he was VP/general manager of KYW Philadelphia, and prior to that general sales manager and VP/station manager of WBZ Boston.
He held onto other things he learned in Albany, such as maintaining an open ear. “A lot of people get into this business or any business and think they have the answers,” Schonbak says. “Tony is an exceptional listener.”
Vinciquerra traces his listening skills to WRGB. A salesman at a competing station whom Vinciquerra considered a “very smart, very effective operator” told him to never be the smartest person in the room. “Just sit and listen and that will make you a better salesperson,” Vinciquerra says. “He was right.”
By that time, he was already using a prospecting process he says he devised in radio to make up for not being a natural salesman. “I couldn't convince somebody to do something they didn't want to do. So I started thinking about the best way to get people to advertise, and that was to find companies that were growing, that were opening new locations or coming into the market for the first time or introducing new products,” says Vinciquerra, who scoured newspapers and local magazines. He landed the station's first Wendy's ads after spotting a help-wanted sign in the window of one of its stores. “I tried to get in front of the money. I've stuck with that strategy.”
Known for his modesty, Vinciquerra was likely not as bad a manager or a salesman as he remembers. “When you meet Tony, you don't have anyone with flash and flair,” Schonbak says. “You get someone who demonstrates confidence.”
As Belo consultant Jack Sander, a fellow 2009 B&C Hall of Fame inductee and a mentor to Vinciquerra, points out, “He is very smart, very thoughtful, but Tony doesn't bring any ego into the room. If you think about that statement for a moment in the world he has lived in, that's an extraordinary statement.”
The TV ecosystem and Vinciquerra's role in it have changed “fantastically” since he started out, he says. He now supervises all aspects of Fox Broadcasting Co. He also oversees Fox Sports, Fox Networks Engineering & Operations, Fox Cable Networks' national and regional programming services, and the Fox International Channels.
With such responsibility, he faces monumental change. The broadcast model, he says, is “broken.” There are many factors to grapple with, including time-shifting, fragmented viewership, online viewing, issues with Nielsen data and retransmission consent agreements.
But then, as Landgraf says, to Tony V. nothing is ever as great as you imagine or as bad as you fear.—Melissa Grego
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