Bill Shaw, president of Superstation WGN, credits his success in broadcasting to weather. That's right, weather. Forget that he orchestrated the formation of the Fox Television Sales unit. Or that he has generated hundreds of millions in revenue. His talents are obvious. But what kick-started his TV career wasn't passion but self-preservation: He couldn't stand the Chicago winters.
Twenty-five years ago, fresh out of college, Shaw was building houses in the Windy City with his brother Jim. But nailing shingles on rooftops in below-zero weather wasn't his idea of career satisfaction. "Those Chicago winters were brutal," he says, "so I decided to look for indoor work."
He found it at Burroughs Corp., and while he didn't like the office-supply biz, he did make a key contact: John Reardon (formerly of MTV, now group VP of Tribune Television). Reardon landed a job with the Chicago office of TV rep firm Petry. Shaw soon followed, and the two sold TV spots on the same sales team.
That's where Shaw's story begins.
A few years later, in 1986, Petry urged him to relocate to its New York headquarters, where Shaw became group sales manager. His career plan was in place—spend three years in New York, build up the résumé, then depart. Well, 18 years later, Shaw has yet to pull the trigger on his New York exit strategy, but he has moved up the corporate ladder.
In 1990, Shaw was set on a return to Chicago, until Petry made him an offer he couldn't refuse: president of Petry National Television, one of the company's major divisions. He ran the unit for six years with solid results: It doubled in size and now generates $325 million in annual revenues, up from about $150 million when he took it over.
Next, Shaw created a Petry division tailored specifically to the Fox-owned TV station, which had doubled in size overnight with the acquisition of the New World stations. He orchestrated formation of Fox Television Sales, hiring 100 new staffers and opening seven offices nationwide in record time—just over two months. He ran his creation for six years.
In 2001, Fox exercised an option in its contract to bring that sales unit in-house. Shaw, however was under contract to Petry, which refused to let him continue to run the Fox rep arm. "I was," he says, "sort of the odd man out."
There were compensations, however. Tribune offered Shaw a job as VP, sales, for its TV station group. A year later, in May 2002, the presidency of Superstation WGN was his.
The challenge for Shaw is trying to make the network younger, while creating a family-friendly zone in prime time. To be younger, you've got to be a bit edgier—hence, Tribune's acquisition of Sex and the City, slated for a 2005 start.
In the small-world department, Shaw is a long-time friend of Mike Shaw (no relation), who heads sales for the ABC Television Network.
The two executives live in the same town, Westport, Conn., and share a common interest: motorcycles. But, while Mike still rides with his local gang on days off, Bill gave up the Easy Rider
life a while ago—at wife Mary Anne's insistence.
Shaw may have cooled down the motorsports, but he hasn't forsaken athletics. He gets his kicks from other sports, including ice hockey (10 stitches to the head last year), working out, golf, fishing, and skiing. Not to mention coaching the dozens of Little League teams his three kids have played on.
No rest for the weary? "There will be plenty of time to rest," says Shaw, "when I take the long dirt nap."