CUMBERLAND — What is the first thing the new CEO of a major media company does when he takes the reins? David Kenny, who was selected as chairman and CEO of The Weather Channel in late January, went for a walk.
The 50-year-old CEO said he has spent a lot of time roaming the halls in the global headquarters on Interstate North Parkway and learning about his employees.
“Most of my time has been spent finding out what people’s strengths are,” Kenny said.
The Weather Channel boasts 163 million visitors across all its platforms, and its cable channel is seen in more than 100 million households. During Kenny’s first four months, his 1,110 employees have been busy introducing new primetime programming such as Hurricane Hunters and Pyros and a reformatted morning lineup from New York. The company has also revamped the Weather.com website, redesigned its popular iPhone app and added new mapping and graphics for the Weather Services International business.
“The weather affects everyone, so we need many different formats for both consumers and businesses,” Kenny said. “I am most proud of how the whole company has mobilized to make sure everybody has an engaging way to know and plan for what’s happening weather-wise in the places that are important to them.”
Kenny, who grew up in Lansing, Mich., was the oldest of four children and the first in his family to attend college.
“My father was a school janitor and my mother was a payroll clerk,” he said. “Growing up from more humble roots gives you a greater appreciation.”
His math and science grades earned him a college scholarship to General Motors Institute, a co-op college now called Kettering University. During college, he worked in manufacturing, engineering, supply chain, and sales and marketing at General Motors.
Upon graduation, the automaker sponsored Kenny to attend Harvard Business School, where he earned a master’s in business administration. After he graduated, he accepted his first full-time job in GM’s sales and marketing department in 1986.
It was there that he met his first mentor, Pete Gerosa, the former head of sales and marketing for Oldsmobile.
“He taught me about sales and that all jobs are important jobs,” Kenny said.
Kenny left the company shortly thereafter over creative differences with the campaign “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile,” joining Boston-based Bain Capital in 1987.
During his nine years there, he rose to senior partner and met his second mentor, Orit Gadiesh, currently chairman of Bain & Company.
“She taught me the importance of understanding competition and outsmarting them with whatever resources you have,” Kenny said.
In 1997, Kenny left Bain to become chairman and CEO of Digitas Inc., a global integrated brand agency, then moved on to become managing partner of VivaKi, the worldwide media and digital arm of Publicis Groupe. His last position was president of Akamai Technologies, an Internet content delivery provider.
Michael Ward, the managing director at Bain Capital who worked with Kenny at Digitas, said Kenny’s strengths include his ability to leverage resources available to him.
“He was an outstanding CEO and leader, able to attract terrific talent to the company,” Ward said. “He brings a deep understanding of how to harness the strength and reach of The Weather Channel content across traditional and new media platforms.”
Kenny said The Weather Channel, which is owned by a consortium of NBCUniversal and private equity firms Bain Capital and The Blackstone Group, is “a special place” that prepares viewers for dangerous weather.
“It’s been 20 years since (Hurricane) Andrew and (almost) 10 years since (Hurricane) Katrina, and we are so much better prepared,” he said. “We are saving lives.”
Kenny said it’s important for a leader to have humility and that his goal is to empower those who work for him.
“I hope that my employees say that they can achieve more because I am here,” he said.
CEO PROFILE: DAVID KENNY
* TITLE: Chairman and CEO, The Weather Channel Companies * AGE: 50
* EDUCATION: Graduated from the GM Institute (now Kettering University) in 1984; earned an MBA from the Harvard Business School in 1986
* FAMILY: Married with two daughters
* FIRST JOB: GM intern — “A co-op was a good way to pay my way through school.”
* BEST JOB: The Weather Channel — “and the reason is that we have a whole company on a mission to help every person have a better day.”
* LESSON LEARNED THE HARD WAY: Sometimes great people are in the wrong job, and that never works long-term.
* ADVICE TO THE NEXT GENERATION: Stay current, so you are never in the last generation.