Frank Batten, HBS Class of 1952, and business leader who led Landmark Communications, Inc., to become a multimedia enterprise consisting of several newspapers and television stations, including The Weather Channel, has donated $32 million to the School. The donation, part of HBS’s capital campaign that aims to raise $500 million by 2005, will be used to support enhancement of Harvard Business School’s residential campus.
Batten’s give comes a little more than a month after Arthur Rock, a member of the Harvard Business School MBA Class of 1951 and a pioneering venture capitalist who helped form companies Intel, Teledyne, Scientific Data Systems, and Apple Computer, donated $25 million HBS to fund the establishment of the Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship, formerly South Hall.
“Frank Batten’s extraordinary generosity focuses on one of the most distinctive and important features of Harvard Business School,” said Dean Kim B. Clark, “a residential setting where MBA students, doctoral students, and Executive Education participants learn both inside and outside the classroom, where they immerse themselves in academic and extracurricular activities, and where they have constant interaction with their professors, classmates, and others on our campus. The result is a truly transformational experience that makes an HBS education the sum of many parts. With this wonderful gift, Frank Batten has ensured that this very special model of living and learning will continue into the future, as we renew the facilities on this campus and look toward future opportunities with our neighbors. Appropriately, one of the drives that connects us to the Allston-Brighton section of Boston will be called Batten Way, and we will also name a building in his honor at a future date. We are forever grateful for what he has done for this School.”
Batten began his media career in the family run Landmark Communications Inc. (and its earlier incarnations), in Norfolk, Virginia. He started as a copyboy for the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, then owned by his uncle. After graduating from the University of Virginia, a stop in the Merchant Marine, and earning a Harvard MBA in 1952, Batten returned to the newspaper as a reporter and ad salesman. In 1954, at 27, he was named publisher of the Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch and the Virginian-Pilot.
During his time at the guiding the paper, he was a champion for school desegregation, an unpopular stand in Virginia at the time. “We were basically the only newspaper in Virginia that opposed massive resistance,” Batten says. The paper earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1960 for that work. Beyond the newsroom, Batten encouraged employees to become involved in the community. He continues to be an outspoken proponent of free speech and a friend to education.
In 1964 the company purchased its first cable television system, the precursor to dozens more cable system acquisitions over the following decade. He bought or started eight daily newspapers, more than 100 non-daily papers and magazines, and several television stations. He partnered with Cox Enterprises to start Trader Publishing Co., a national publisher of classified advertising publications. He then bought ten additional daily newspapers, more than 100 non-daily papers, magazines, radio stations, and more television systems, combining them all under the name Landmark Communications in 1967. In 1994, Landmark sold its TeleCable systems to Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI) for more than a billion dollars.
The Weather Channel was born in 1982. After barely surviving its early years, TWC has thrived ever since. When Frank Batten launched The Weather Channel, an around-the-clock cable channel devoted to, well, weather, skepticism rained down like a bad storm. The critics’ chorus grew even louder when TWC, losing a million dollars a month, came close to shuttering its doors for good. But in typical can-do fashion, Batten persuaded cable system operators to bail out The Weather Channel and give it another chance. In 1996 The Weather Channel expanded internationally with interests in Europe and Latin America. Its companion Web site, weather.com, averages more than 300 million page views per month. Today, The Weather Channel reaches 80 million customers, and is one of the great cable programming success stories.
In 1979 Batten faced his biggest challenge. Batten, a nonsmoker, suffered from throat cancer and had to learn to speak again.
Batten headed Landmark Communications for 44 years and was chairman of The Associated Press from 1982 to 1987. In 1998, Harvard Business School presented him with its highest honor, the Alumni Achievement Award. “You have reached the pinnacle of your profession,” said the accompanying citation. “Your life is a landmark to admirers of courage and conviction.” He also holds honorary degrees from the College of William & Mary, Washington and Lee University, Virginia Wesleyan College and Old Dominion University.
Article was written with the assistance of the HBS Office of Communications.