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.”