Fresh out of college back in the mid-1970s, Telemundo President and CEO Jim McNamara allowed himself to dream about becoming a professional golfer. But one meeting and a round with Arnold Palmer reaffirmed some nagging doubts that he wasn't going to be the Tiger Woods of his generation.
After 18 holes, Palmer had one question for McNamara: "Have you thought about a career in sports management?"
The good news was Palmer had an interest in a sports-management company and was willing to help McNamara get a foot inside the door. Maybe it was the chutzpah—it certainly wasn't his putting game—but Palmer took a liking to this then-young kid who called him out the blue to seek his career advice.
McNamara ended up talking to International Management Group. Nothing happened immediately, but McNamara kept in touch as he pursued a master's degree in international business. After that, he joined IMG, initially as an agent representing golfers.
In 1980, IMG moved McNamara to Brazil, a base from which he set up sports tournaments (golf, tennis and soccer) all over Latin America.
That was comfortable. McNamara, who joined Telemundo as president in 1999, is familiar with the Latino market his network aims to serve. He was born and raised in Panama and grew up speaking English and Spanish.
McNamara's father was a financial executive working for the government in what was then known as the Panama Canal Zone. McNamara spent his entire youth there, until departing for Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla.—"golf country" as he calls it.
In 1985, McNamara joined an educational film company called Learning Corporation of America, which was acquired by New World Entertainment later that year.
McNamara stayed a decade, rising from director of international sales to New World CEO in six years. He made his mark at the company on the international side, where he launched U.S. soap operas like Santa Barbara
and The Bold and the Beautiful
into worldwide syndication. In many markets, recalls McNamara, those soaps gave Spanish-language novelas a run for the money.
"My mission in life in those days was to annihilate the world of novelas and we were very successful," he recalls.
But McNamara's mission now is making Telemundo as competitive as possible with Univision, the most-watched Spanish-language TV network in the U.S. Ironically, Telemundo's prime time program mantra now is "all novelas all the time." That mantra was embraced after the network's previous management strayed from the genre, chasing away viewers in the process.
After New World was sold, Universal and its newly named head of TV, Greg Meidel, came calling. Meidel offered McNamara the job of running Universal's international operation as well as its domestic syndication arm. While there he launched two of syndication's most popular series—Hercules
and Xena: Princess Warrior.
Meidel, now president of programming at Paramount Domestic Television, says "I just admired his global perspective of the television business. He has enormous insight to where the business is going and he's a tremendous strategic thinker."
But Universal's parent company Seagram sold the studio's TV unit to USA Inc., and McNamara was out, until June of 1999, when Sony TV head Jon Feltheimer offered him Telemundo.
By July 5 he was on the job. "It's been a whirlwind ever since," he says.
But his golf game doesn't seemed to have suffered. He's no Arnold Palmer but if you're a basic weekend duffer and you play him, you don't want to have bet more than a round at the clubhouse afterward.