Ricardo Venegas figures he has spent half his career building companies and half restructuring them. In his current position as chief financial officer of One World Sports, he’s been fortunate to help build the independent network. It’s also given him a chance, during a recent media event, to play with the New York Cosmos, the famous soccer team that has been rebooted by One World’s ownership group and plays its games on the channel.
When he was 4 years old, Venegas was diagnosed with cancer and moved with his mother and brother from Ponce, P.R., to Syracuse, N.Y., where he was treated at the well-known pediatric hematology clinic at Upstate Medical Center.
The cancer recurred a year and half later, but it has been in remission since Venegas was 10. Soon after, he exhibited skills as a businessman, keeping careful track of his revenue and profits selling Christmas cards door-to-door as a youngster. He was also active in Junior Achievement in high school.
At Rochester Institute of Technology. he gave engineering a try before switching to the business school. “I gave my mother an opportunity to forever say ‘I told you so.’ She always thought I was going to be a businessman. And here I am,” says Venegas, who as president of RIT’s alumni association soon will present an honor to veteran ESPN exec and fellow alum Sean Bratches.
After graduating, Venegas did a short stint as a sales associate at a Radio Shack Computer Center before returning to Puerto Rico to work at his father’s construction and gravel business. “I moved a mountain my first six months in Puerto Rico,” he quips. Venegas wanted to run the company, but his dad “wasn’t retiring any time soon, so I came up here and decided to create my own path.”
In 1994, he went to work as a financial analyst for C-TEC, a cable company affiliated with RCN. His first project was buying Megacable in Mexico. The peso was devalued before the deal closed and Venegas negotiated a 40% reduction in the price. The company did a three-way spinoff and Venegas wound up at RCN, helping the company raise $5 billion to build out its network. Later, as treasurer, he oversaw a restructuring before leaving in 2004.
He became treasurer of newspaper publisher Journal Register Co., helping build the company through acquisitions until the print business faltered, necessitating another restructuring. Venegas moved to Spanish-language publisher ImpreMedia in 2007 as CFO. He helped the company expand its digital operation, but the recession hit its newspaper businesses. Venegas and the CEO figured the company could save money by training staffers to fill their roles. “I restructured myself out of a job,” he says.
Venegas returned to the cable business with Cloudburst TV, Bryan McGuirk’s enterprise that aimed to acquire cable systems at a time when the market was depressed. Though Cloudburst wound up getting outbid in its efforts, Venegas nonetheless impressed McGuirk.
“What Ricardo brought was just a combination of entrepreneurial skills and obviously financial skills and technical savvy,” says Mc-Guirk. “In a smaller company he played the financial leadership role, but from him I got much more in terms of strategic thinking. Because he understood the technology, he was able to apply cost curves that nobody had before.”
McGuirk expects Venegas to lead a company in the not-too-distant future: “He’s got that broad array of skills you look for in a top executive. He’s just a guy who makes things happen.”
Venegas moved on to Dial Global, which owned Westwood One, briefly serving as a consultant. That experience gave Venegas his first exposure to the content side of the business.
McGuirk recommended Venegas to Univision Deportes and ESPN Star veteran Sandy Brown, who was starting up One World Sports, now available in more than 30 million homes.
“We have a lot of blocking and tackling to get done with a start-up, so you need someone who’s organized and vigilant,” Brown says. “It’s always helpful when you’ve got a CFO who is very enthusiastic about your product.”
Venegas says he is very excited about being in the sports business. “This is another opportunity to help build a business, which is a lot more enjoyable than restructuring them,” he says.
Venegas has bruises to show for his love of sports. He plays soccer with high schoolers, which can be dangerous at his age, and in an over-30 league. His sons are getting into the game; he serves as their team’s assistant coach.
In his younger days, Venegas was a competitive sailor. He also loves auto racing (he recently drove in a six-hour endurance race with go-karts) and takes his kids to indoor tracks.
Venegas is involved in the BMW Car Club’s street survival program, which can save lives by teaching young drivers how to manage emergency situations. “If I can get across to just one of these kids how to behave more safely in their car, and it saves their life or someone else’s life, it’s worth it,” he says.
He’s also treasurer and a director of the Hispanic Federation, which provides grants to Latino nonprofit agencies. One program, Crear Futuros, helps student succeed at the City University of New York by providing mentors and tutoring. “Our board tries to support programs that have a local impact but that can scale nationally,” he says.