Ann Sarnoff, president of BBC Worldwide North America, discussed the state of television and the media and shared her leadership philosophy on Nov. 5 at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. The talk was part of the Stanton Distinguished Leaders Series and was in conjunction with the re-launch of the Georgetown University Women’s Leadership Institute. Catherine Tinsley, executive director of the institute, moderated the conversation.
“The state of television, to me, is in a very exciting state of flux,” Sarnoff said.
Sarnoff, a 1983 BSBA alumna of the McDonough School of Business and vice chair of the school’s Board of Advisors, said that the focus for television consumers is on quality content, regardless of the platform, and highlighted the rise of streaming services and mobile apps like Netflix and Hulu.
“We feel very confident that as television continues to evolve on multiple platforms our programs will continue to rise to the top,” she said. “The number one thing right now is that all of you, the consumers, have a ton of choices. You can consume things whenever and wherever you want.”
Sarnoff became president of BBC Worldwide North America in August 2015, after five years as COO. Prior to joining BBC in 2010, she held executive roles in media including president of Dow Jones Ventures, where she launched new digital products and oversaw the creation of The Wall Street Journal executive conference business, and executive vice president of Nickelodeon Consumer Products and Business Development, where she developed Rugrats and Blue’s Clues into large off-air franchises and helped launch new cable channels TV Land and Noggin.
On the topic of her leadership style, Sarnoff said she emphasizes three pillars: innovation, an external focus, and leadership.
“The thing about innovation is that you have to be making people uncomfortable,” she said. “I say this to my senior team – if we start finishing each other’s sentences, that’s really bad. I want you to provoke me.”
Sarnoff encourages her team to spend time with people outside the office each week as a way to truly understand their audiences, a concept she calls “outside in.”
“Find out what they do, what keeps them up at night, what problems they solve, and bring those learnings into the company,” she said.
Her focus on leadership is evident in her office structure – there are no walls in her team’s offices, and she sits at a table in an open area rather than in a corner office. She hopes the set-up fosters collaboration and transparency and a sense that she wants everyone on the team to succeed.
“I want to be a strong leader and I want the people below me to be strong leaders,” she said.