“I say that presidents of companies should be kicked out every five years or changed because we are only good in one or two areas not five or six or the full breadth of what a CEO does and I continue to believe that. There should be far more turnover of leadership in companies than there are today because people get stale,” says Kevin Shea. Part Two of this interview is packed with advice based on years of experience in the communications sector. After reading Kevin’s interview here are of few of my takeaways, what are your?
- Listen and hear
- Find and work with others who complement your skills
- Going against the grain can have huge payoffs
- Don’t give up on your dreams just because others tell you that you’ll fail
- Interact with people from all age groups
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Montreal, and my family moved to Los Angeles when I was nine months old, and I’d like to say it was because I was having difficulty with two languages. My parents moved back to Canada, to Toronto when I was about 10. I grew up in Toronto and was involved as an actor when I was a kid and was always connected to the broadcasting television business. I knew that was the business that I wanted to get into. I went to York University and studied history, I’m not sure why I did that. After university I started my career in the cable industry.
Many years later I am now running my own company SheaChez Inc., have been for the past five years. I get involved in various start-up companies where I assist them with CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) licensing applications, which is a role I did with Sirius Satellite Radio. And I sit on a variety of different boards of private companies and I am chairman of what’s called the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC).
What’s a typical day like for you?
There is no typical day, because I’m self-employed, and as I said I do a lot of board work, my days are a mix of visiting companies I am involved with trying to set up strategic partnerships between companies that I know and companies that I’m involved with, lobbying government on various things and then working on a host of different projects. Quite honestly the overall content of what I do is somewhat similar but my days are dramatically different.
How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?
Because there is so much diversity in what I do, what I mean by that is, I’m on the board of Cookie Jar Entertainment for example, which is an animation company and they are involved in what I call the conventional broadcast production business, but I’m also involved in a lot of new media companies and just diversity alone keeps me very interested. I work with entrepreneurs from the age of 20 to 70. In the old broadcasting business there are still a lot of legends and in the new media business there a lot of young, smart people.
If you had to start over from scratch, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
I’ve thought of that before, and in many respects I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had some fabulous jobs and I’ve had the privilege of starting and running YTV the kid’s network for seven or eight years. I was at GlobalTV in its best years, Atlantis before it was Alliance Atlantis where we launched Life Network. That was great grounding for me, but there was always a bit of entrepreneur in me that wanted me to do my own thing. Having the benefit of working in large corporations most of my career has now allowed me to take that and help companies along the way, which has been a real benefit.
What’s the most important business or other discovery you’ve made in the past year?
I think the most profound discovery is how dramatically changed the broadcasting and communications sector is becoming. It is literally changing every day, and for many it’s very difficult to keep up with. It’s dramatically altered almost every aspect of the broad communications sector whether that’s newspapers, magazines, radio, and television. I mean it’s in a real state of flux. Even advertising is going through its own dramatic changes as it tries to keep up and understand all the change, and in the mean time consumers are very quick adapters, particularly Canadian consumers and they just want more, more, more. I guess the other profound discovery is that we’ve almost moved back 40 years sort of pre-cable and pre-online where the expectation is you buy the device, for example a TV, you put up an antenna and everything is free, and today’s consumer is also expecting everything online to be free and we both know that free isn’t going to pay for it, so that’s a discovery. It’s the reality of today.
What’s one of the biggest advances in your industry over the past five years?
I don’t know if there has been a single advance, but I think that for all of us, and when I say us I mean those who grew up in the traditional, conventional broadcasting business, understanding the impact that these new distribution technology advances are like night and day and is still very much a struggle for a lot of executives to figure out where this business is going. Today I spend the bulk of my time and effort in the new media business not the old media business and it’s been a dramatic shift. It’s not well understood and we don’t know with certainty where it’s going.
What are the three threats to your business, your success, and how are you handling them?
- Keeping current, particularly as someone who is a consultant and advisor you have to know what’s going on, so I find myself spending more time with younger people because they have a better handle on where things are going
- We saw last year what impact the economy had on investments and in Canada the sources of investments in new start-ups in the communications business is difficult, there aren’t a lot of people investing in that.
Tell me about your big break and who gave you.
My big break came when Phil Lind at Rogers hired me to come in and run Cable Satellite Network way back when, and put me into Rogers a much bigger company than I was with in a leadership role. He remains both a close business associate and key mentor of mine. When I moved around in Rogers, Colin Watson who was my boss was an incredibly supportive and smart guy, so I would say it was a big break getting into Rogers at that time
Describe one of your biggest failures. What lessons did you learn, and how did it contribute to a greater success?
In my early days at Rogers when I was running this organization called Cable Satellite Network, and this was before we had specialty networks in Canada, the only thing we had was live coverage of the House of Commons, no Toronto Sports Network (TSN) or Newsworld. I had worked on a couple of applications for TV Ontario (TVO), one was called Galaxy to start a national children’s channel. This was before YTV and we kept being turned down by the CRTC and it was very disheartening because it seemed like such an obvious thing because we had TV Ontario that was a core strategic partner which was the first time that a broadcast and cable company had come together, which was my doing because I was the one who put that partnership together. I learned that we were before our time. The CRTC had no policies, they have never licensed a specialty channel, and the moment they licensed TSN and MuchMusic, which were the first two and they weren’t specialty channels back then, they were paid TV channels that almost went bankrupt and changed to specialty. It was when we all realized that it was time to put together a kid’s specialty channel and YTV was born. Now YTV was a controversial license because it had cable companies as shareholders and producers as shareholders, we didn’t have a broadcaster. TVO didn’t participate this time. I learned that you have to wait in this country [Canada] until they are ready, and secondly you have to be patient, and don’t stop because someone says no doesn’t mean that you go away forever. It took us six years to get an YTV license. It was called something different in different applications but in the end it was worth it.
The failure was Galaxy and the lesson is, do not give up and sometimes you are a bit premature.
What has been your biggest disappointment in your life – and what are you doing to prevent its reoccurrence?
Maybe not going out on my own earlier and starting my own cable networks. There is nothing that I can really point to be honest.
What’s one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make and how did it impact your life?
I was at Global TV and had been there for six or seven years as president, they had just bought the newspapers, whether I had a premonition, I realized that this acquisition of the newspaper was going to dramatically change how the company was going to be in the future. I thought about this for a few weeks, talked to a few friends and associates, and to resign from a big job at that point to go and do my own thing was one of the biggest decisions that I`d ever made. And you leave from having assistants, flying all over, all sorts of expenses being covered, stock options, to do your own thing is a big decision. I look back and say thank God I did it for a lot of reasons, given unfortunately what has happened to CanWest today, and I’m not saying that I predicted it. I look back and say I did the right thing even though I didn’t have all that information at the time.
What are three events that helped to shape your life?
- Being born since it wouldn’t matter otherwise
- Having four great sisters who are my best friends and I mean that, and they have been very influential in my life
- Having two wonderful children
What’s an accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Starting YTV. I look back at my career and it took a long time to get the license, everybody said it would be a failure and would be off the air and bankrupt in six months and when I left after seven years it was probably one of the most progressive cable networks in the country.
How did mentors influence your life?
In many ways, and I seek out mentors and they continue to advise me. Somebody told me when I was young that you cannot be an expert in everything, you just can’t, and to concentrate more on your strength than your weaknesses and fill the gaps with people around you that actually complement your areas of weakness. I know where I am good and not so good so I’m always conscious of this advice. I say that presidents of companies should be kicked out every five years or changed because we are only good in one or two areas not five or six or the full breadth of what a CEO does and I continue to believe that. There should be far more turnover of leadership in companies than there are today because people get stale.
What’s one core message you received from your mentors?
Make sure that one of your capacity is the capacity to listen because most times people do not listen to what you’re trying to advance because the only thing they have on their mind is what they are trying to advance, and you can tell that there are certain people who are not listening. And it’s almost as if you have to say, ‘hang on a second, I want to make sure that it’s not that you just understand this, but I want to make sure that you are hearing it.’ That’s been valuable personal advice in terms of dealing with people because at the end of the day a company is only as good as the people are.
Which resources (books, movies, training etc.) did your mentors recommend to you?
Everybody has their latest favourite book. It provides them with intelligence or a clue from an operating standpoint that they didn’t have before to see the world in a different way so if I read everyone of those books I`d never be able to leave the house, so I do a lot of scan reading.
As an Invisible Mentor, what is one piece of advice that you would give to readers?
Keep an eye out for, and try to follow the capacity in which the individual has been able to implement change. I come back to where we started this conversation, and that is unless you can adapt really quickly in this day and age to change, and fully understand that change is happening all around you, so today’s best leaders are those who can actually implement change and that’s not easy because to implement change you have to have buy in, understanding and a collective will and good folks are the ones that today have that capacity and that`s something we all need.
What are your thoughts on this interview? What was expected and what was unexpected? What are 10 takeaways? How can you apply this information? Let’s keep the conversation flowing, please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. Many readers read this blog from other sites, so why don’t you pop over to The Invisible Mentorand subscribe (top on the right side) by email or RSS Feed. I created a Mini Learning Toolkit and you can grab a copy by clicking here.