When Frank Sgrizzi took the stage at Turner Broadcasting’s upfront presentation May 15, he had a lot of fans in the audience.
“I always know I can trust what comes out of Frank’s mouth, and we are able to solve a lot of problems in most negotiations because we go right to the heart of the issues and we attack them together as partners,” says Kris Magel, executive VP, director of national broadcast at Initiative, who has known Sgrizzi, a Turner veteran who was promoted to executive VP in 2012, for 15 years. “[Frank] always has his ducks in a row. He does a lot of homework before he walks into a meeting.”
Sgrizzi grew up in New York City, in the Rose- dale section of Queens near Kennedy Airport. He studied computer science at Nassau Com- munity College but left when he realized he wanted to deal with people and loved sales. He sold Electrolux vacuum cleaners door-to-door and computer services and supplies in Manhat- tan. After Sgrizzi became aware of the world of media sales, his father approached his neighbor, Lou LaTorre, now president of Fox Cable advertising sales, who was then with Turner.
“[Frank’s] father asked me, ‘Can you talk to my son and see if he has any talent? If not, don’t do me any favors,’” recalls LaTorre, who has known Sgrizzi since he was 8 years old. “As a kid, I watched his work ethic. You could see the kid’s a team player. He cares about people. He cares about doing the right thing. I thought he’d be great at the TV business.”
LaTorre helped Sgrizzi get into the Antonelli Media Training Center to learn the basics of media math, then helped him secure a research job with Blair, the TV rep firm. “Eventually he was ready for primetime, and we hired him at Turner,” LaTorre recalls. “At that point it was obvious he was going to be a natural.”
Sgrizzi started at Turner Entertainment as a sales planner, then became the first salesman for Cartoon Network.
“I’ve been a Turner lifer ever since,” Sgrizzi says. “These were the people who were at the forefront of putting cable on the map, and the passion and conviction that Ted [Turner] had was alive and well. That culture hasn’t changed—pushing forward and being the in- novators in the marketplace.”
After Cartoon Network, Sgrizzi, a huge fan of the New York Giants, Knicks, Rangers and, unfortunately, the oft-hapless Mets, took a sales job at Turner Sports. He left later to rejoin Turner Entertainment as a manager.
Sgrizzi’s lack of a college degree has not held him back, says NBCUniversal sales president Linda Yaccarino, who considers Sgrizzi “the brother I never had.” At Turner, Yaccarino made Sgrizzi a manager. “He’s so talented that it never got in the way of his performance,” Yaccarino says. “I promoted him at least three times. Believe me, if I could have done it more, I would have.” Why hasn’t she brought Sgrizzi with her to NBC? Because David Levy, Turner sales president, “won’t let me do that yet. Underline yet,” she says.
People are eager to praise Sgrizzi from the other side of the bargaining table as well. “I’m a big fan because you know exactly what you’re getting with him,” says Ava Jordhamo, president of Zenith New York. “He doesn’t have a poker face, which maybe in a negotiator is the best trait. You can tell when he’s really upset about something. He’ll get heated, but it’s because he cares about what he does. And if you’re really upset about something, he’ll hear you out. He doesn’t dig in.”
Last year, as executive VP, Sgrizzi became part of Turner’s upfront presentation. “Stand- ing up on stage last year and looking into the crowd and seeing Larry Hagman and having Conan introduce me was a surreal experience, but it was an amazing one,” he says.
Sgrizzi’s new role (since January 2012) has meant more travel to Turner’s national offices and meeting clients outside New York. “He definitely has been on the outside more,” says Donna Speciale, who negotiated big deals with Sgrizzi as president of MediaVest before joining Turner last year and becoming his boss.
“What’s so impressive is Frank still every day tries to learn more,” says Speciale, president of ad sales for Turner’s entertainment nets. “When you’ve been at a company so long, you think you’d get stale. That’s so not the case with Frank. He’s always trying to improve himself and the team and push the company into bigger and better things every day.”
In his spare time, Sgrizzi is pursuing a de- gree at City University of New York’s School of Professional Studies. “I had always made the promise to myself that I wanted to finish school and get my degree as an example to my kids,” he says. “The job comes first, so I don’t really put a timetable on it. I like to think I’ll finish before my 7-year-old goes through college.”
Food and family are important to Sgrizzi. “I’m Italian-American. My wife is Jewish. Everything is about family. Everything is about eating. There’s always a reason to have family over.”
Sgrizzi takes cooking seriously. Years ago, he attended the Culinary Institute of America boot camp in Napa Valley, and he holds a barbecue each July 4 for 80 friends and relatives. Once, at a hotel, he corrected the way a cook was making eggs. “I didn’t want to insult the guy, but it was clear he cooked them wrong. You can’t sauté eggs. You have to cook them at a high heat,” he says.
Only a few people in the business have sampled Sgrizzi’s gourmet fare, a sign of how he balances work and family. “Even though he works his butt off here, he gets to every base- ball game with his son and does whatever he needs to do with his kids,” Speciale says. “He’s an unbelievable dad.”
Sgrizzi recently had eight Turner colleagues over. “We’d been bugging him that he hasn’t cooked for us,” says Speciale. “He cooked Cuban. It was very good.”