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Weather’s ChiefDigital Forecaster

Weather is even more important than you think, says David Kenny, who was named chairman and CEO of the Weather Channel Companies in January.

“The weather of your ancestors actually determines your race,” he says. “The weather of today determines your mood. Weather for many people determines how you make a living. And it’s very much in the subconscious of so many other decisions we’re making.”

Kenny grew up in Michigan. After learning engineering at the General Motors Institute (and earning a Harvard MBA) he took a job as advertising manager for Oldsmobile. Advertising, he says, gave him an outlet for his creative side.

He moved to Bain & Co., doing consulting on marketing and technology. There, he worked closely with Mitt Romney, now a presidential candidate. “I learned a lot from him,” Kenny says.

One of Kenny’s clients at Bain was American Express. “I consulted with them on what the Internet would mean to their business. That led me to a number of companies, including Yahoo,” says Kenny, who as a director helped Yahoo through its recent leadership turnover.

His experience with AmEx led him to launch Digitas, a digital ad agency. He sold Digitas to Publicis, then helped run VivaKi, which comprises Publicis’ media and digital agencies. “David is a rare combination in that he is extremely well-versed in technology and also has an ability to deftly apply his knowledge to meaningful consumer experiences,” says VivaKi CEO Jack Klues.

Kenny left Publicis and helped Akamai Technologies reorganize. After Akamai, Kenny got offers to run four companies, but Weather Channel seemed the best fit. “I love creative. I love entertainment, so for me this is a dream job,” he says.

“David, from his digital marketing experience and his Akamai experience in all the Web can do from broadband to mobile, has a unique perspective about all Weather can do” as media become more personalized, says Akamai CEO Paul Sagan. “He’s a funny guy, and he’s got a good spirit. He’ll be well-accepted and bring a lot of fresh ideas.”

Weather, acquired in 2008 by NBCUniversal and private equity firms the Blackstone Group and Bain Capital, is unique in the technology it requires, first to gather weather data and then to distribute its forecasts on a localized basis. “Our science really matters,” Kenny says, noting that the company sells forecasts to airlines and energy traders.

With Weather nearing its 30th anniversary, the company’s digital innovations might outshine its cable business. “We’re one of the few cable channels that actually can get the majority of its revenue from digital, while everybody else is struggling with that,” Kenny says. “We’ve got a tiger by the tail with our mobile app, which is the most-used app on the iPad.”

“We have really high expectations for David. He’s an incredibly smart strategic thinker,” says Jill Greenthal, senior advisor to Blackstone Group. “He has a deep understanding of both the advertising community and the digital world, which we think will be valuable and helpful to the Weather Channel.”

Kenny says Weather will be increasing its programming investments. He says the network needs to make its live programming more entertaining and better connect its stories to people on a personal level.

He also wants to create a deeper connection between the network’s television series and the programming on its Website and with users’ mobile experiences. “Making those work together, I think, is the key,” he says.

Kenny says he was a fan of Weather during his agency days and thinks that the way viewers and users use Zip codes to access forecasts creates opportunities for advertisers. He also thinks some advertising is going to be more social, which is good because a lot of people want to comment on the weather. Given his advertising background, Kenny wants to “help these agencies understand the palette they can work with here.”

While Kenny is known to work 20- hour days, he also tries to make time for his wife and daughters, who are still in Boston, where his oldest is completing high school. Weather’s important to them, too. “Our family is very outdoorsy,” Kenny says. “My kids compete in equestrian sports and my wife does outdoor photography. Our vacations are always to places like Alaska or the Galapagos, and it turns out that the weather really matters when you’re outdoors.”

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