Q&A with DOUG BAKER
UMKC MBA, '95; Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President (read about Baker's recent promotion), Discovery Networks International
What has been the greatest challenge in your career?
Baker: I have always been in creative businesses—early on in my career with Hallmark, and now with Discovery Networks International (DNI)–where the biggest challenge I faced, ironically, was keeping the drama in the product and out of the business. To be a successful leader in a large, multinational creative company, I have learned the importance of striking the balance between being empathetic with people, how they think, learn and get things done differently than yourself, while also being confident, disciplined and expedient about conducting business.
Early on in my career, one of my CEO's told me that someday I would get fired! His reasoning was that I always knew the right answer for the business but lacked the patience in getting it implemented. His concern, in addition to doing the right thing, was making sure the entire organization was moving towards the light, versus the fractionalization I might foster by just “cramming down” an answer. This was an important piece of advice for me, as it forever changed the way I way do business and the way I conduct my personal life. Thankfully, I am still gainfully employed in both!
You’ve been CFO and now have EVP added to your title. What excites you about your new position?
The latest expansion of my role has more to do with an acknowledgement of "how I get things done" rather than "what I do". DNI management has asked me to lead an effort to globalize elements of our advertising sales organization—a finance guy playing in an advertising world, there is nothing much more fun than that! My finance team is flawlessly handling the day-to-day functions, freeing me up to contribute to the organization in other ways. We'll see if "how I get things done" translates to an advertising environment, and I am confident things will work out just fine.
It is said that DNI has more than 1 billion cumulative subscribers. How do you build on this base?
Slowly, thoughtfully and respectfully. If I look back over DNI's history, as well as our recent investments, there is no "big bang" theory that got us to our level of success. We leveraged what we did well in the U.S., hired largely local management, respected the customs and traditions of local consumers and governments, and put a lot of poles in the water where the fish were biting. DNI is a hugely profitable arm of Discovery Communications.
What excites you most about new initiatives for DNI?
It is interesting watching globalization occur. For most of Discovery's history, our content has originated in the U.S. and then "gone international." I am now seeing content originating in the 210 countries and territories we operate "go US." I often joke with my finance counterpart for the domestic networks that the U.S. is “just another country”. Seeing domestic and international evolve to global—and being a part of it—is extremely exciting.
A 1969 Cessna 180, flown in Discovery Channel's "Flying Wild Alaska."
Any personal stories or experiences about your time with DNI?
As a personal hobby, I like to fly small airplanes. So naturally, FLYING WILD ALASKA is my single most favorite Discovery program—my iPad is loaded with every episode we have produced, and I hope to go on a production shoot to Alaska sometime soon. It’s kind of funny that the international guy is trying to get to a U.S. state for adventure.
In terms of international travel, India is exhilarating to me. Commerce and capitalism are alive there, and the standard of living appears to be improving every day for more and more of their billion-plus people. It is exciting to watch.
Can you reflect back on your time at UMKC? Were there any faculty, courses or experiences that stood out and any that help you in your position today?
I got my MBA at night—and the thing I remember most about the experience was the ability to strategize in the classroom and then put it into practice the very next day in the workplace. When I went to UMKC, we talked a lot about "White Collar JIT (Just In Time)" in my operations classes and read a book called The Goal by Eli Goldratt about the efficiency of manufacturing processes. It’s amazing how similar manufacturing a widget is to building a financial or strategic plan. The pragmatism brought about by UMKC's program has helped me keep things real and simple in my executive roles.