President of HBO Henry McGee (HBS ’79) Puts the Business in Show Business

Henry McGee, Preisdent of HBO (HBS ’79)

Henry McGee (HBS ’79) has been President of HBO Home Entertainment, the DVD and digital program distribution division of Home Box Office, Inc., since 1995. McGee recently spoke with The Harbus about his time at HBS, his career at HBO, the future media landscape and whether or not Tony Soprano survived the final episode of HBO’s seminal series, The Sopranos.

What was the most important thing you learned at HBS cartier santos 100 replica? How have you applied that lesson during your career?

The most important thing I learned at HBS was the importance of understanding what drives the profitability of a business. I also learned that there are two words in the phrase “show business”, and it’s important to never lose sight of that fact. For all of the glamor and attention, show business is still fundamentally a business that operates with all of the principles that are taught so well at HBS.

What’s the best career advice you ever received cartier roadster replica?

The best career advice I ever received was actually from another HBS alum, Steve Scheffer, who was one of my first bosses at HBO. His advice was that every career was going to have ups and downs and lulls, and that I couldn’t expect to be promoted every other month. He told me that it’s important to take a longer view of career progress. By following that advice I’ve been able to take advantage of new opportunities when they’ve arisen without obsessing over what my next job will be and never losing focus on the day-to-day job I have now.

If you could relive your HBS experience, what one thing would you do differently?

I would have liked to have spent more time getting to know the professors outside of the classroom. I found that I was so focused on getting the case ready for the next day’s class that I didn’t take full advantage of the opportunity to get to know the faculty.

How did you decide to join HBO www.replicabestsale.co.uk?

The start of my career is a total testament to the impact of being in the right place at the right time, no matter how much preparation you have.

I had been a reporter for Newsweek before I came to HBS, first in New York and then Washington. I wanted to move onto the business side of media, so I decided to go to HBS to get the knowledge and training I would need to make that transition.

Before I graduated in 1979, I went to the largest magazine publisher in the US, Time Inc., knocked on their door, asked if I could have a job, and was extremely fortunate to be offered two jobs.

The first job was in the magazine group where they typically took a number of business school graduates and put them through an informal publishers’ training program. If you were good you’d rise through the ranks, become a publisher and oversee a number of magazines.

At the same time, the company had a relatively new subsidiary that they were still trying to figure out. It was called Home Box Office, and they had great faith in the management there. The company had turned a profit the year before and they were trying to convince business students to take a career risk and join HBO. I took that risk.

And you’ve been there ever since.

I’m one of the few among my classmates to still get his paycheck from the same company all these years later [laughs]!

You know, the initials on the building are the same, but the business itself resembles nothing of the business I joined out of business school. I couldn’t even have conceived of the job I have now when I left HBS. When I was at business school, science had not yet developed the technology to affix movies to 5-inch discs. Similarly the digital distribution of films and television shows is a relatively new phenomenon.

So while it’s the same company, it’s seen a lot of change. Being here has allowed me to have a front seat to every major change in the entertainment business.

What one piece of advice would you give to HBS students who are contemplating a career change into a creative industry like TV, film, music, etc.?

You have to realize that because it’s so visible, it’s a highly competitive business to get in to. That being the case, you shouldn’t get involved in endless handwringing about whether you should start in finance or marketing – getting hung up on your job title or function is a barrier that you’ll create between yourself and a career in the business. You should take any job you can possibly get in entertainment and go from there.

Along the same lines, students should be prepared to lower their expectations about where they’re going to start in the business. People may say that [HBO series] Entourage is an exaggeration, but it’s not really – people have to be prepared to work their way up the ladder.

The good news is that having the Harvard MBA will always make their resumes stand out. That said, unlike someone going into a more traditional MBA position who will put everything they have to work immediately, in entertainment the MBA skills may come into play later in their careers rather than initially.

Most students wouldn’t think of there being as many alumni in entertainment. How helpful has the HBS network been in your line of work?

It hasn’t been directly impactful to my day to day work, but being able to stay in touch with alums and discuss common business problems and issues is always very helpful.

Looking ahead to the next 5-10 years, is there a particular corner of your industry where you think MBAs can have the highest impact? Are there are particularly pressing challenges that MBAs can address?

The entertainment industry has undergone tremendous change in the last decade, and even more change lies ahead in the next 10 years driven by two phenomena: the increasing digitization and internationalization of the business.

Those two drivers are going to create the sorts of conditions that are ideal for an MBA student to take advantage of all the things they’ve learned in analyzing problems and coming up with solutions.

Are there any HBO initiatives that you’re particularly proud of? Why?

The two things I’m most excited about are our drive into international markets and how quickly we’ve moved to take advantage of digital distribution opportunities.

HBO used to be a totally domestic business. In fact, when I joined the company, our satellite signal was so crude that our affiliates in Puerto Rico and Hawaii couldn’t pick up our signal. Fast forward to today and we have HBO networks in Europe, Asia and South America and our DVDs and digital downloads are available in 70 countries around the world.

As you think about the future, what are the primary challenges for HBO?

In terms of programming content, the environment is going to remain incredibly competitive. Virtually every cable network has now entered the original programming game, so it’s a challenge for us to continue to stay ahead of the pack.

The environment is also growing increasingly competitive in terms of the sheer number of home entertainment outlets that are competing for consumers’ time, attention and money. We have to stay a step ahead of other cable networks, but we also have to consider the increasing number of channels, video games, etc. that our audience has at its disposal.

You’re an HBO insider, so tell us: Tony Soprano – dead or alive?

[Laughs] Only David Chase knows for sure and he’s not saying!

March 6, 2012
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