When Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman arrived with his family in New York from France, he learned how to speak English from watching television. Good thing MTV's Jersey Shore hadn't been created yet, or Dauman might have learned to GTL instead of getting a perfect score on the SATs.
Dauman attended Yale University and Columbia School of Law and went to work at the law firm of Shearman & Sterling, where he was assigned to do some legal work for Sumner Redstone, beginning a 25-year relationship that would take Dauman to the top of the TV industry.
Dauman represented Redstone when he made his first investment in Viacom and when he took control of the company in 1987. He left Shearman & Sterling, where he was a partner, and joined Viacom as general counsel when it was in the process of acquiring Paramount Pictures.
"It was a great, exciting company that was an important part of the wave of consolidation that was taking place in the entertainment industry, and I love the networks, MTV and Nickelodeon, and all the other great businesses that were included in Viacom," Dauman says.
"Even before Philippe joined Viacom, he was a valued advisor to me as a young lawyer," Redstone says. "It was his strategic insights and his skills as a negotiator that first impressed me. Through a number of major transactions, we became close colleagues and friends, and he earned my complete respect and trust."
Redstone calls Dauman "one of the most thoughtful people I have ever known, with a rare combination of wisdom and resolve. As CEO, he has exceeded even my high expectations by driving Viacom to new heights creatively, operationally and financially."
When Viacom CEO Frank Biondi left the company in 1996, Dauman and Tom Dooley became vice chairmen. Together they negotiated the acquisition of CBS; with CBS CEO Mel Karmazin essentially assuming their duties, they left together and formed DND Capital Partners, which invested in cable networks, including the Tennis Channel and Nuvo TV. "If you ask him, it's Dauman and Dooley; if you ask me, it's Dooley and Dauman," Dooley quips.
Dooley, who returned to Viacom as COO when Dauman was named CEO in 2006, says he's stuck with Dauman because he is a man of tremendous integrity. "He says what he means and does what he says," Dooley says. "He's a brilliant negotiator. In his M&A background as an attorney he negotiated many deals over the years, and that has given him a command of negotiations, which as you know from recent events comes in handy from time to time in our jobs.
"I just enjoy working with him," Dooley adds. "If you were ever in a situation, you'd want to have him on your side."
Dooley says their families are close, too. With his sons getting married, Dooley has been advising Dauman on how to avoid getting swept up in wedding planning, as his eldest son also is getting married soon. Dauman and his wife "are great parents" and "great representatives" for Viacom.
"Family is very important to me," says Dauman, who married his college roommate's sister. One of his sons works at Google, which Viacom sued for $1 billion over its content appearing on YouTube. That hasn't created an issue. "Business is business, and they recognized good talent when they found him, and he's happy there," Dauman says.
On Wall Street, Dauman's negotiating skills are admired, according to Michael Nathanson, analyst at Nomura Capital. Despite some cyclical challenges at Nickelodeon and MTV recently, Dauman's focus on returning capital to shareholders has kept Viacom's stock relatively healthy.
Nathanson also recalls an investors conference in 2008, where Dauman was the first person to tell the world that national TV ad spending was, in fact, slowing down. "Almost every other executive at that conference said, ‘No, that's not true, things are fine.' And he was right," Nathanson says. "The stock was down 8% in five minutes, and companies don't usually do that. He's going to tell us the truth even if it goes against the short-term stock price. That's why I respect the guy. I wish more executives behaved that way."
Viacom director Blythe McGarvie says Dauman possesses a rare blend of attributes. "Philippe is a very pragmatic person who comes with the discipline of a lawyer," McGarvie says.
On top of that, he's a very good communicator. "I think the fourth thing that makes him successful is his social skills," McGarvie says. "He's very gracious. He's a gentleman. He's very thoughtful. You can tell a lot about how someone responds to emails or how quickly they return your phone call."
When making deals, Dauman is able to understand the dynamics driving the people in the room. "Think about Epix," McGarvie says, referring to the premium TV joint venture Viacom helped start in 2008. "Epix could not have happened unless the three companies could get together and really collaborate. And yet we compete with LionsGate and MGM through Paramount. That takes a talent to be able to put that together."
McGarvie also says that for a guy in showbiz, Dauman doesn't have a big ego. "There are some people in the entertainment industry, who will remain nameless, that have egos that fill the room and, therefore, there's no room for anybody else. Philippe is not like that. He is confident in himself to make courageous decisions," she says.
Dauman says he keeps up with industry trends. "I watch our own networks, watch what other people do," he says, noting that his job is not to pick programming but to make Viacom "a really attractive place for young people and creative people of all ages to join." Dauman says he's proud that Viacom remains relevant around the world with its programming and with its pro-social initiatives.
MTV president Van Toffler insists his boss is cool. "I would say he's the biggest cheerleader for all of our businesses and watching them grow and expand globally, so that's pretty cool to me," Toffler says. "He's undeniably supportive of risk-taking. MTV always lives on the edge, and he's really supportive of us taking risks and not backing down."
Toffler says Dauman loves music and that his tastes range from Tony Bennett to Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga.
"It was Philippe who drove the relationship with Gaga and her mom as it relates to [MTV's] anti-bullying campaign," he says. "He's got a Gaga ringtone. He cannot get enough of Gaga."