- Good afternoon, everyone.
I’m Ann Harrison.
I’m the dean at the Haas School of Business.
Welcome to today’s Dean Speaker Series.
I’m really excited to introduce and welcome back
today’s speaker Michael Smith who’s our MBA,
one of our own from 1986.
Michael earned his MBA from Berkeley in marketing
and finance after earning his bachelor’s degree in science,
technology and society from that school
that shall not be named, Stanford University.
As a leader who consistently questions the status quo,
Michael says of himself that he would prefer
to build, “What’s next,” over managing, “what is.”
Michael joined NPR in 2020 as their chief marketing officer.
He set out to ensure that both the NPR audience and content
reflects the diversity of America.
As a media executive who has spent his career
finding new ways for people to consume content
across an recently diverse audience population,
Michael is uniquely qualified to take on the role
and the challenge at NPR.
He has more than 30 years of experience in entertainment
brand content, digital and revenue generating
brand extensions and he’s held prior leader roles
at both digital channels for scripts, networks
and cooking channel and food category brand extensions.
He’s also held roles at the Food Network,
Disney channel and CBS.
Thank you so much Michael for taking the time
to speak with us today.
We’re very grateful to have you and have you back
because we know you were here last year at this time,
and it’s so great to have an alum here in the room with us,
at least virtually in the room with us,
and we really look forward to an informative discussion.
So now I’m going to turn over the conversation
Mukundha Sastry and Elsa Mora, who are both part
of our full-time MBA program and they will lead
After that conversation is over you will also
have an opportunity to ask some questions,
so take it away.
We’re so excited to be here today, Mike.
I am a first year full-time student.
I came from media and entertainment.
I am a co-president of the digital media
and entertainment club, as well
as the business Latin X club.
And I’m also part of Consortium.
- And thank you again, Michael.
My name is Mukundha.
I am a second year in the full-time program.
I also come from media and entertainment and super excited
to share your love of entertainment with this community.
- Well, it’s great.
Thanks for having me.
It’s just exciting to be back.
Anytime anybody from Haas asks me for anything,
I’m just so excited ‘cause it was definitely,
maybe this is an overstatement,
but it was a transformational time in my life
when I was in business school and just love
to reconnect whenever I can.
We’ll go ahead and, dive right into the questions.
So the first one is, you know, you’re CMO of NPR,
you have had a very successful career.
Do you wake up and just pinch yourself
and think, how did I get to this position?
- Yeah, I do feel lucky.
I think anybody who works in the media and entertainment
business should feel lucky.
I mean, we get to do things around things
that most people consider to be like,
if you say entertainment, it’s fun.
I mean, I grew up, you know, watching television
and reading the newspaper and listening to the radio
and just enjoying it as a consumer.
And to think that, you know,
what I get to do every day is just make the things
that I actually consume and like yeah, it’s a treat.
- And Michael, there are several folks here in the room
that are really excited about joining a career in marketing.
I think you’ll see that across Haas we have several students
interested in product, in sales,
particularly product marketing.
For someone who, for those of us who might be interested
in entering those types of careers.
I’m just curious to hear from you your career in marketing,
what is the day in the job of a CMO look like?
Could you tell us what was on your calendar yesterday
and some important meetings and sort of what’s on your mind
on a day to day basis?
- Yeah, and one of the thing, nice things
about marketing is that no two days are the same.
I mean, I think that the mission of what you do is the same.
I mean, our job is to connect more people
to our content and again, into our brand.
But what you do on a day to day basis really varies.
I mean, we’re the voice of the audience
throughout the organization.
You know, I always like to use this sort of framework
when you think of media organizations
is there’s about five key functions that they perform.
The first is that they make content,
then they package the content up, you can call it product.
Then they figure out how to distribute that product,
where to put it and then the fourth thing they do
is to promote and market the product.
And then the final thing is to actually figure out ways
to monetize and make money off that product.
And we are in that, you know, we’re the promotion
and marketing people but we also are part
of the audience intelligence apparatus within the company,
which informs the content at making and informs distribution
decisions and also informs our sales,
our ad sales department that monetizes the content.
So I get involved in a lot of different conversations
across all these parts of the company.
I mean, you specifically to your question about
what was on my calendar.
I was in a meeting with our distribution team
talking about our, actually it’s our product
and distribution team talking about the NPR One app,
which is our audio app that we’ve created
to help people consume our radio stations and our podcasts.
And we were just having some conversation
about how to evolve that app and brand that app
and whether we wanted to have two apps or one app
or what kind of features we wanted to have in the app
and what our consumer intelligence tells us about that.
And then I had another meeting which was about
our organizational structure,
was how we structured marketing
and audience insights and our business development team,
which is another group that I oversee
which deals with our licensing and brand extensions,
and what’s the best way to structure those.
I also oversee our design team
and we do design around our marketing communications,
but we also do design around our products as well
and their conversations about line between UX design
say, and brand design.
So it’s a variety of things.
- You have a lot of designers and product enthusiasts
in the room.
So if there’s ever any a time that Haas students
can help out with these product ideations,
I think we’re open.
- Great. - Yeah,
that’s one of the interesting things I know
from what I first got out into the media business
that that’s evolved as, you know,
I talked about the content and then the product
or packaging part of it and then the promotion
but that packaging part was not as salient,
you know, 20 or 30 years ago.
I mean, you know, media product was,
you know, it’s a movie or a television show
or a radio broadcast and there wasn’t really
a package around it.
I mean, there was, you saw it on a movie screen
or on a television set or maybe there was a sort
of a CD package or a record or something
that you could hold in your hand,
but the digital era has created this whole new thing
called an app.
And the app is the package, you know,
that you experience the media content in.
And for, I think for consumers that experience
of how the product is packaged within the app is, you know,
almost in, for some products like a TikTok, you know,
obviously is even more important sometimes
than the content itself.
So that’s an exciting thing I’ve seen happen
over the last 30 years.
And, you know, we have heard how you have transitioned
from different roles and all the companies
that you’ve have worked in.
How do you tackle going and working at a new company
and smoothing out that transition
from role to role, from company to company?
Is there any research that you do,
any set of criteria or any set of steps
that you sort of as a ritual undertake
before and while you’re newly joining a company?
- Yeah, you know when I was a student,
I was one of those sort of, you know,
pull all nighters cram before the final kind people.
And that’s the way I used to address joining a new company
was to kind of pull in all nighter
and try to learn everything you possibly could.
But I had some really great advice from a boss of years ago,
a mentor that, you know, you need to take
that pressure off yourself and realize
you’re gonna be working at the organization
for hopefully a very long time.
And to give it time.
You know, the organizations are very multi-layered
and nuanced and you’re probably gonna have better insights
and opinions on what to do after you’ve been
for two months or three months and you’ve had a chance
to really understand the organization
than you will on day one.
So don’t, you know, beat yourself up
thinking you’ve gotta know everything the day you walk in.
So I try to get myself time in the first couple of months
just to listen, you know, just learn and walk around,
meet as many people within the organization at all levels
and people who have been there 20 years,
people who are new and just try to understand
the anthropology of the place first
and then try to apply some of the lessons and, you know,
things that I’ve picked up over the years
and things I learned at Haas you know,
to the circumstance that I’m in.
- So specifically for NPR, you undertook
this sort of approach.
What were some of the findings and who were some
of the people that you were speaking to
that helped illuminate your path forward?
- You know, one of the first things I did
and when I was, before I started was I went back
and read a lot of thesis papers that students like,
you know, you guys have projects where you do, you know,
do cases on companies and there’s some really good ones
that student have done over the years on NPR.
And so I read some of them, you know,
analyzing the company and its history.
And I also looked at the, so the original founding documents
for NPR, the original mission statement.
And I realized that they were written by a guy
named Bill Siemering who created,
who was one of the first program director,
actually was the first program director for NPR.
And I, you know, just on a lark, just reached out to him.
He’s retired, he’s in his, you know, in his 80s
and he was so gracious to spend time with me
through email and just on the phone talking
about the founding of NPR and what his vision was years ago.
And it just really helped me again, back
the anthropology get to stand the sort of DNA
of the organization.
And then I did that with conversations,
through conversations with other long time people
on the journalism side and other employees
just to kinda understand, you know, where,
especially with an organization that’s been around
for a long time, you know, how we got to where we are,
which helps create just a better understanding
of the context in which whatever change we need to make
is going to occur in.
- I like that you’re elaborating and articulating
on these themes of just listening, learning context,
understanding culture, sort of the environment
that you’re going into.
In this room where you’re speaking to it’s MBA students,
we’re all excited to be in this environment
and sort of learn as much as we can,
but half of us are about to go out into the real world
and graduate and get full-time careers.
What are some of the best takeaways
that you might have for us as we sort of go
into our next jobs?
And what do you think we should be thinking about
as we sort of look for that next opportunity,
or if we have secured that opportunity,
how can we sort of bring our best selves
to that new environment?
- Well, I think the perennial challenge
for an MBA student is the, you know,
the edict of like follow your passion
is what people have always said, you know, for years.
You know, first find your passion,
hopefully in some time in business school
through your internships and classes,
you gotta find the thing that you think you really wanna do
and then follow your passion.
But then follow that within the constraints of,
you know two years of incredible expenses
and student and loans hanging over your heads.
So.. - We really.
- So that’s, but I was a student that was, you know,
everybody was going to Wall Street
because that was where the big money was
even though might been have where their passion was.
You know, looking back years later,
I think what you really should do is find the thing that,
you know, if you had won the lottery tomorrow
and didn’t have to work for money, what would you just do?
You know, what would you just do
because you enjoyed it and try to find something closer
Because I think if you’re better motivated
and more excited about what you do
you’re probably going to have more success in that career
and ultimately more financial reward than jumping
at the thing that has the great starting salary
that you don’t really love but you think it’s gonna
pay down your loans.
That’s a career you might start and then sort of stall out,
you know, after a few years.
So I think it’s kind of figure out, you know,
there’s a book years ago called
“What Color Is My parachute?”
and it’s that thing about, you know, what, yeah,
what is the thing that really, you know,
makes you want to get up in the morning
that you wanna go do?
And, you know, that’s hard to find sometimes,
but hopefully, you know, the two years here in school
and through internships and through informational interviews
and networking with people, you can get a better sense
And then also don’t beat yourself up if you know
that first job or two, you know, after b school,
isn’t exactly the perfect fit ‘cause that’s also part
of that journey, figuring out where you really need to be.
- But to that point then I guess,
so those are some of the successful things
we should be looking for.
But what about some of the mistakes that you’ve seen
from newly minted MBA grads or perhaps MBAs
you’ve seen in the workforce?
What are things that we can be actively looking out for
that we should perhaps think otherwise about?
- Yeah, I think sometimes people, you know,
will chase the herd like, oh, everyone’s going to work in,
you know, Web3 or everyone’s going to work in AI or,
and without saying, you know, what is it
that you really want to do?
And then also not researching the culture
of the organization is that you’re going into deeply enough
to make sure that there’s really a fit in alignment
with who you are.
I think that’s something I’ve seen change over the years.
I know when I was younger, it was more like,
you know, bootcamp.
We just figured just get a job at, you know,
one of these big name companies, because it’s,
it stamps your ticket for future success.
And you put up with a lot of things in the culture
and we worked with that you felt like
it was almost like a badge of honor
to just kinda get your feet in the door.
- Right. - And I think now
people are demanding no, you know,
you know, I have a lot of knowledge, I have a lot of skill.
It’s, you know, it’s a tight labor market right now
so you guys have a lot of leverage
and let me be more selective and ask people about, you know,
what I’m really going be getting into.
- So the media landscape as we know is constantly evolving.
And even when you started in your position,
the world, the pandemic had really taken full force.
How have these changes informed and shaped your strategy
and how do you think your strategy
is working out two years into the job?
- Yeah, I think the pandemic has just accelerated things
that were already in motion.
You know, I think the two sort of meta trends
that have been going on in media, you know,
probably the last 50 years have been one,
the change in technology and how people engage
with the content.
You know, from whether it’s from broadcast TV,
to cable, to the internet, you know,
from movies to streaming.
And then the other big meta change has been
the increasing diversification of America.
I mean, when NPR started 1970, you know,
over 80% of Americans were white.
And, you know, I think less than 6% were,
you know, we’re Latin X and 9% we’re African American.
Today we’re in a country, you know, that’s about 60/40
and you look at people under the age of under 35, you know,
it’s a, almost a majority minority country.
So, those two things, those two forces have been,
you know, relentless through time.
And those are the things I think all media companies
are struggling to react to, you know,
the changing ways people consume
and the changing nature of the consumer.
And I think for NPR that’s been a challenge
and an exciting opportunity for us.
You know, our mission and why we were created,
it was really to, you know, provide an alternative
to commercial media and to sort of serve
the media needs of the country that aren’t being served
by the commercial system.
And to talk about the stories that, you know,
aren’t always covered, to represent groups who aren’t always
depicted and to really reflect America.
And so that’s, in fact that’s the north star
of our company strategy right now is to really,
really be a true reflection of the audience that we serve.
And then secondly, you know, we started as a,
primarily as a radio broadcast company.
And over time how people consume audio
has really evolved, you know, digitally.
I mean, it’s, you know, people string radio,
they listen to audio through smart speakers.
You know, they listen to podcasts and, you know,
we’ve been at the forefront of innovation in those spaces,
but that has been, you know, an important shift
that we’ve had to adapt and hopefully, you know,
can leverage towards our mission.
- And do you find that in your search
to broaden and diversify the base
that you are navigating a difficult challenge
in retaining and catering to the needs
of your previous base whose demographics
and needs are substantially perhaps different?
- You know the nice thing for us is that,
you know, we reach people through radio
but we also reach them digitally through stream,
through audio streams and more significantly
And the audience is, if you look at the podcasting audience
versus the radio audience, they are very
And so it’s been nice to be able to serve a whole new
audience without alienating an old audience.
So, for example, you know, there are people
who are older and less diverse who listen
to Morning Edition every day on the radio.
But then there’s a whole new generation of people who listen
to Up First, which is our podcast morning news show,
which is, you know, one of the most popular
daily podcasts in the country.
But the audience of Up First is, you know,
our people in their 20s and 30s and 40s.
You know, it’s a very diverse audience,
much more diverse than the radio audience
which tends to be older.
So we’re able to, you know, introduce content
that serves the next gen audience but we also, you know,
put a lot of investment into the traditional Morning Edition
radio show that serves the traditional audience
at the same time.
- And I think it’s an interesting point just to think about
even audiences and how different audiences are.
We’re at a really unique point in sort
of the entertainment landscape in this country
and around the world where there’s just
the proliferation of every single company
putting out their own type of content product.
How do you think NPR sort of stays independent
from all of that chatter?
Because I think consumers are probably expressing loyalty
to two or three services where they’re sort of getting all
their entertainment options from,
how do you envision NPR sort of staying independent,
sort of clear of all that chatter and that noise?
- Well, I think being a nonprofit
and being mission driven really helps us because, you know,
we’re not just chasing clicks or chasing eyeballs
for just pure revenues sake.
We’re really, you know, chasing a mission
which is we have a belief that, you know,
the more informed and aware and intelligent
the American population is the better
it is for our democracy.
It’s better for civility. - Right.
- And just in just the harmony within our society.
That’s the core of why I think public media exists.
And so our, you know, higher goal is to grow
the amount of people that engage and are touched
by our content and to make sure that that we’re reaching,
you know, the full spectrum of America.
And it’s, you know, not about, you know,
being the number one service or, you know,
competing with this guy or with, you know, with that guy.
It’s really about making content that we feel like can,
you know, enrich people and making more people aware
that it’s out there.
We feel like we’re really a really unique moment in time
where you know, we think about the polarization
in the United States, all the misinformation,
the low trust in media that, you know, people
are looking for, you know, accurate,
trusted, respected, you know, balanced fact based
And I think the surprising thing I think
to me when I came to NPR was that when you think
about the brand awareness of NPR it’s, you know,
it’s in the 30s.
You know, almost 65% of the Americans
are not aware of the brand which will surprised
a lot of people probably, you know, in our circles
and kind of more highly educated circles.
So there’s a huge swath of the population
that we need to reach by just making them aware of,
you know, this really quality content that we have.
And we found that when we put it in front of people,
they’re, you know, they’re presently surprised,
like I never heard of that but this is amazing stuff.
And so that’s what gets me excited every day.
- That’s an interesting point because I think of,
I highly encourage everyone in the room
and those listening to follow Michael on LinkedIn
because he’s an avid LinkedIn poster
and really enjoys posting about entertainment trends.
And Michael you posted recently about CNN+
and sort of how there is a larger awareness
for a different demographic.
And I think it’s interesting how you’re kind of delineating
that NPR is mission driven versus CNN is obviously driven
by being a publicly traded company as part of the larger
Warner Bros. Discovery entity.
So I’m curious just as Americans consume news
and NPR strives to sort of be that independent
mission driven oasis for those that seek it,
what would you say does the next five
to 10 years look like for that?
- Well, I think the next five to 10 year years for us
is about getting our content onto more platforms
and also kind of rethinking the formats of our content.
You know, we were pretty, we had one format for almost 35,
almost 40, our first 40 years
which was a long form radio show.
And one in the morning called Morning Edition,
one in the afternoon, you know,
called All Things Considered.
And now we’ve really been innovating with different forms
of content that still provide the same benefit
and sort of the same mission.
So whether it’s, you know, a 10 minute podcast
or a 30 minute podcast, or Insta,
a one minute Instagram video, or a two minute TikTok video
which are things that we’re doing right now,
you know, in the culture space,
we’ve always been a place where you could listen to,
you know, and discover outstanding artists,
sometimes undiscovered and underappreciated artists.
And we would have radio shows where you would hear,
you know, jazz concerts or classical concerts.
And we’ve really been innovating on YouTube
with short concerts and concerts in a very unplugged,
And we started a series where the concerts
are actually performed in front of a small desk
in our office called the Tiny Desk Concerts.
And that’s, you know, become one of our most popular
So I think that more video, more short form,
things in different kinds of platforms,
just experimenting with all the ways that you can enlighten
and enrich and inform people.
- One last question before we switch gears
just pertaining to entertainment and media.
So again, Michael, I’ve talked to you about how this room
and sort of the broader Haas community in general,
their aspiring consultants, folks interested in product,
big tech, real estate, finance, you name it, social impact.
What would be your elevator pitch to Haasies and beyond
for entering a career in this space
where this is perhaps more of a smaller industry
preference and choice for those entering.
How can we convince Haasies and broader MBAs
to sort of consider a career in entertainment and media?
- Well, I think entertainment media,
if you think about the impact that it has in people’s lives
and how that’s grown over the last say 30 or 40 years,
you know, you’re definitely working
in a part of industry that, you know, makes a difference
and really has an influence of on the world.
And it’s a growth industry.
You know, I, you think about the number of people.
I think the US Labor Department data would back this up
who worked in media entertainment say in 1972
to who work in it today.
I mean, it’s exploded.
In fact, you know, the Nielsen data shows,
I don’t know if this is good or bad for our culture,
but the amount of time people spend with media, you know,
is I think it’s over eight or nine hours a day.
You know, when do they work, when do they sleep?
But that continues, you know, that continues
to grow continually.
I think as people have, you know,
more devices in front of them, you know,
they’re on their phone while they’re got Netflix streaming
in the background, you know, while they’ve got
their AirPods in their ears listening to a podcast.
I mean, it’s crazy.
So there’s, so you’re in a business that is, you know,
exploding in size and scale with an increasing
societal impact and importance.
So I think that’s one of the exciting things
about being in the business.
- Here’s a fun one Mike,.
In your LinkedIn profile you state that, you know,
a little about many things and a lot about
what you still don’t know.
What are some of those topics that you are not
very knowledgeable in and how do you go
about bridging that knowledge gap?
- Oh yeah.
I think NFTs.
Crypto, I would say cryptocurrency.
- Wallets. - Yeah.
CRISPR gene editing.
I mean there’s a lot of different,
I have a real, you know, polymath who just,
I just curious about a lot of different things
but I think because I’m so curious about so many things
I tend to not go deep on many things.
So I have a long list of things I wish, you know,
like books I wish I could read or lectures
I wish I could attend, but I’m really,
I’ve always been fascinated by,
that’s why my undergraduate degree was
in what’s called science, technology and society.
So I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection
of culture and tech.
And so that’s why things like, you know,
the metaverse are, you know, super interesting to me.
And just having time to go deep on that stuff though
because it is, you know, so nuanced and complex.
- So as we think about our careers long term,
something that Elsa and I talked a lot about
in preparing for today is we both come from environments
that were largely homogenous in the entertainment
And as both of us as professionals of color
coming from the entertainment world, it was tough.
It wasn’t easy to sort of look around and not find people
that look like us or executives that sort of were advocates
and champions of our own progress.
And so we’re even more delighted that you’re here with us
to sort of share on your journey.
I’m just curious to hear from you about,
especially for candidates of color dealing with primarily
homogenous environments, what types of questions should
we be asking of our future employers,
whether it be entertainment, media, or anything beyond,
any industry beyond to ensure our own psychological safety
in the workforce, and to ensure that we are set up
for success to continue growing
and being the best versions of ourselves?
- Yeah, I think we’re at a really exciting time because,
you know, when I got into the business in the late 80s,
early 90s, I mean, you know, there weren’t a lot of
Mukundha’s does and Elsie’s.
You know, even just the names, you know.
- So true. - Like Bobs and Carols.
So it’s just, it just the feeling of inclusion
was so different then.
I mean, we were just people, you know, my generation,
I think we were just happy to have a foot in the door
and not even, you know, be at the stage to say,
what you’re saying, like to demand that, you know,
that there be inclusion or what are you doing
to make people like me feel safe and comfortable.
We were just like, just happy that we’re the first ones
to even be in these companies.
But, you know, hopefully we paved away
to where you’ve gotten to a stage where yeah,
you can ask those kinds of questions.
You can say, you know, wait a minute, it’s not just about,
do you have a few people in your company,
but, you know, what’s your culture?
You know, is it just part, is it woven into the fabric
of your culture, inclusion and diversity.
And I think the thing that I’ve noticed too
that’s it’s so much nicer today,
is that just the way people dress, the way they speak,
the, you know, the hairstyles,
to that you can just show up as yourself
And it’s really about just the work.
So if you’re, you know, you’re mate is it a good podcast?
Is it a good movie?
Is it, you know, are you making things
that resonate with the audience and who cares about,
you know, how you, you know, how you dress or,
you know, or all these other sort of superficial things
that people used to use to really segregate
and discriminate against people.
So that’s, you can kind of tell when you walk into companies
too, do they feel very homogenous,
or do you just get, do you just see,
but, you know, a sense of diversity?
I mean, one way to dig deeper is just beyond, you know,
the company website and the couple people
that you interview, you know, ask, you know,
to speak to a few different employees in the company,
three or four different employees.
If you can ask if you can come on site, you know
and walk into the lunchroom and just look
around the company and get a sense of who’s there.
You know, seek out people maybe on LinkedIn, who, you know,
were former employees the company to get, you know,
Yeah, I think it really be, do the due diligence
- And to that point, I guess, how do you as Michael Smith
show up authentically to work every day at NPR as a CMO?
- You know, yeah, I, it’s one of the places
that I felt that the ability to be the most authentic
because I’m kind of a, you know a,
I guess we call me kind of a nerdy sports fan guy
who likes to, you know, wear this kind of casual clothes
but be sort of brainy too.
And I dunno if you guys watch Food Network,
there was a guy named Alton Brown who’s on Food Network
who’s sort of very similar, I guess,
sort of to the personality of myself.
And when I came to NPR I found there were a lot of people
that were just naturally like that.
There was, NPR is sort of like a company of like,
it feels like graduate students and college professors
who couldn’t get tenure and ended up making radio shows.
But you know really, you know, really,
and really committed, dedicated journalists,
just people who are committed to helping other people
understand the world better and are just comfortable
with being themselves and doing that.
And so it’s a really, I feel a fantastic organization
in being able to show up as yourself.
But not all, yeah all companies are like that.
- And it’s really reassuring to hear that,
that you can find that in future corporate environments.
Something that we talk a lot about at Haas
especially within the student body
is sometimes just the feeling of imposter syndrome,
feeling like you don’t belong or feeling like sometimes
you maybe not be as good enough as your peers
or your fellow classmates, and that can often get
to your head and it can cripple you.
I’m curious in your role as a CMO
of such a large organization, have you ever felt
that imposter syndrome or that feeling
of fear of how can you keep up with sort of the demands
of the role, and what are some ways
in which you’ve overcome that if you have felt it?
Yeah, I’ve thought a lot about that
when you guys provided that in advance
about imposter syndrome.
And I think maybe it’s a factor of just the age we’re in.
When I was coming up, I didn’t feel a sense
of imposter syndrome because there was so few people
like myself and it seemed to be such a challenge
to overcome pre, you know, preconceived biases
against people of color into what your potential could be.
So it, I didn’t have the luxury of people thinking
that I was more than I was and I was an imposter.
It was more, they, you kind of had to prove
to them that you weren’t what they thought you were
and that you actually were smarter than and were capable.
You could say that today, there are so many
You know, I think it’s never been a better time.
You know, it’s don’t long from perfect
but it’s never been a better time to be a person of color
going into business and companies really are, you know,
leaning in and looking to diversify and looking
for, you know, highly qualified people of color.
And so, you know, sometimes that focus and,
you know, people patting on the back and saying, oh,
we’re so glad you’re here.
And, you know, and you know, we’re trying to diversify
and we really need you and then you get brought in
and you probably do feel like, oh my God,
you know, am I really as good as I think that I am?
But yeah, I wouldn’t worry about that.
I mean, I still think that the general tenor
within the American industry is to still underestimate and,
you know, somewhat marginalized the abilities
of people of color.
So you’re still gonna need to, you know,
to prove people wrong.
So don’t ever, you know, feel like you’re not worthy,
‘cause you are, and you’re more worthy than probably
most people believe, around you believe that you are.
- One other question since we spoke about having done
due diligence prior to working at a company,
certainly you did.
You spoke to employees but you were still
from the outside looking in.
Definitely not the companies, but I’m speaking
specifically about NPR.
What were some of the findings that, you know,
you only really gained insight to once you’re in
that may have surprised you that you didn’t expect?
- Oh, and within NPR.
You know, one of the things that surprised me was
the length of tenure that people,
a lot of companies in media and if you read, you know,
“Variety” or “Deadline Hollywood,” or, you know,
a lot of the trades, there’s a lot of turnover
in the industry.
People jump from company to company,
people tend to, you know, work in someplace
for a couple years and then they…
And I found that just, you know, anecdotally that like
the average tenure of an NPR employee
was at least eight years.
You know, many people 10, 15, 20 years.
So that was a surprise to me.
It’s like, you know, what is about,
what is it about this place that people
are working here for such a long time?
You know, because, you know, it’s a nonprofit
so it’s not necessarily that people are making, you know,
outrageous salaries, but there’s some reason
why they’re dedicating, you know,
the majority of their careers to this place.
And so that was intriguing.
And, you know, as I found out, it’s really,
really about that emotional and sort of spiritual reward
that you get about knowing that the work you’re doing,
you know, is having such a positive impact on the world,
it has a, you know, a meaning,
you know, a deeper meaning.
We’re almost at time for audience Q&A,
but before we do that I just wanted
to thank you again Michael for always being
such a consistent advocate for people of color,
for executives, for sort of amplifying talent
in any way you can.
It really, it just, it’s so wonderful to see and experience.
And for those who may not know,
Michael just casually responded to a LinkedIn request
that we had sent him and sort of that’s how
he participated with us today.
So it’s just so lovely that you’re such a wonderful
source of support and guidance and mentorship for us here
at Haas and we just really appreciate
all that you do for us.
- Well, thank you very much for having me
and you know, what a great credit to the two of you
and the rest of your teammates on having these kinds
of opportunities for students to, you know,
to hear other perspectives and hopefully get some advice
that helps them.
- Thank you.
- So Michael, we don’t want, we’re hoping you can stay
with us a little bit longer because we wanna give
the students in the room or the audience
the opportunity to ask some questions.
Would that be okay with you?
- Yeah, yeah.
I loved questions.
I was one of, when I was a student,
I was one of the ones in annoyed my professors
with endless questions.
So- - So if you’d like
to ask a question, you can go to the mic behind you
and identify yourself.
If someone would like to…
While she’s walking towards the mic,
let me just say in my own words
how much I appreciate NPR and everything that you’re doing.
I cannot tell you over the years the number of times
I’m in my car listening to an episode,
I get home and I just stay in my car riveting, you know,
by whatever it is I’m listening to.
I just can’t leave, you know, what I’m hearing
on National Public Radio.
So over the years it’s just been so amazing
and we’re just so grateful for NPR.
So on that note, did you wanna ask a question?
- Hi, my name is Nina.
Is this on?
Is the mic on?
Hi, my name is Nina.
I’m a second year full-time MBA student
And you I’m just feeling very triggered
about having to graduate in a month or so.
One of my questions is when you’re a news organization,
you’re obviously tasked with having to deliver
some heavy news, like, you know,
the world is kind of dark right now,
but NPR seems to do a beautiful job of centering joy
and connection and empathy in its voice,
even while it’s talking about really complex topics.
And I’d love to know as future leaders of organizations,
how does that joy and empathy and connection translate
to things you you’ve seen take place, you know,
in the office and what can we do as future leaders
to ensure that no matter what industry
we’re working in, we’re also, you know,
carrying ourselves in ways that honor empathy
and joy and connection?
- Yeah, I think one of, (clears throat)
one of the hallmarks of NPR’s journalistic style
is to, you know, tell stories through the voices
of the people who are experiencing
the thing that you’re talking about,
you know, rather than from just the reporter editorializing.
You know, it’s one of the unique things you can do
with an audio because of the intimacy of the medium.
And so we let the stories unfold, you know,
through the people experiencing it
which I think that allows you to you know,
feel the poignancy but also feel the hope
in the people who are telling the story,
you know, whether…
And I think that’s something you can translate into,
you know, how you work with your peers
and your employees is to, again, going back
to that listening thing and just platforming
the voices of people internally.
And it’s something that, you know,
NPR really does walk that walk internally.
You know, that the number of what we call
sort of listening spaces that we have
within the organization where we get employees together
to talk about, you know, whether it’s diversity issues
or the hybrid work issues, work-life balance issues,
just have spaces where employees can moderate
and spaces to talk about issues amongst themselves.
And it just, you know, creates this culture
where no matter what your role in the organization
you feel like there’s a place for you to have your voice,
you know, recognized.
And so I think keeping an eye on that as a leader
- Awesome, I thought that was an awesome question.
Thank you, Nina.
My question is a little bit different.
It’s about competitors.
So you mentioned talking about TikTok and you mentioned,
and kind of some other players who I was
a little bit surprised about actually.
So I was kind of curious how you think about NPR
in terms of various competitors,
especially new ones like Spotify and others
who are kind of popping up as content creators,
new content creators?
- Yeah, the competition thing is, you know, to me,
is very nuanced because it being,
as a nonprofit we’re not necessarily, you know,
competing against the “New York Times”
or the “Washington Post,” you know, for our audience.
I mean, if you step back for a second and you say, you know,
if our mission is to create a more informed public
and sort of fill the gaps that commercial media, you know,
doesn’t fill, you could argue that
if somebody already has a “New York Times” subscription
or an “FT” subscription and reads the “Washington Post,”
you know, they’re a person who’s pretty well,
they’re well educated.
So that’s not really well, you know,
the core of why we’re here.
We’re here to help that person,
you know, doesn’t have access to that information,
you know, who can really be empowered
by having that kind of information.
And so, you know, where we compete with them
is more in terms of the resources to do what we need to do.
So we do earn a significant amount of resources
through sponsorship sales or advertising you call it,
the sponsors to fight messaging in our content.
You know, we do get membership donations from people.
So to the extent that people are consuming
the “New York Times” and not us, then that may, you know,
harm our advertising revenue to the extent
that they’re paying for “New York Times” subscriptions,
you know, maybe that this reduced the amount
of money they have to donate to NPR.
But it’s not as, you know, direct one to one,
like we’re sitting there paying attention
to how many clicks they’re getting
versus how many clicks we’re getting.
- Thank you for that.
This is Dimple.
I’m an alum of the Haas School,
and also have looked at Michael as a mentor over the years.
I come from the media industry.
We met in New York a number of years ago
through are the Haas alumni network.
So I definitely encourage you all to stay in touch
with the network.
My question for you Michael today
is one thing I know about you is that you’ve always
been super innovative wherever you’ve been
in terms of pushing strategy forward
in a very unique way that hasn’t necessarily
been introduced to C-levels in the organizations
you’ve worked for.
And I think that part of your magic there is this sort
of quiet charisma that you have and as leaders
and future leaders in this room, you know,
we’re all gonna have to work with folks
who we have to find strategic ways
to getting through to them.
How have you done that?
You know, what are those, you know, personality traits
or, you know, maybe there’s a story
of a time you were trying to get something pushed through
and, or an idea accepted.
How did you go about that?
- Oh, thanks there Dimple.
Great to see you again.
The key list lesson I’ve learned is the value
of relationships and just human connection.
I think when I came outta school,
just give you guys guys some perspective.
You know, I went straight through from undergrad
into business school.
So I hadn’t worked at all, you know full time
when I got into the business world.
So I believed you know, my success had been
because of my academic success.
You know, I have the smartest idea and, you know,
biggest brain and then that’s gonna win.
You know, that’s kind of happens when you’re in school.
And I learned the hard way over years
that it’s not having the best strategy or the best idea
and just trying to, you know, pound your fist on the table
and drill it in the people’s heads.
It really is about winning their hearts
and understanding okay, I’ve got an idea.
I think it’s the best idea but how can I connect
with this person and you know just listen to them
and understand and where they’re trying to go.
And, you know, we can kind of get there together
in coming to this understanding that was…
And a lot of it is building that relationship capital
with people through just, you know, popping your head
in someone’s office, having coffee with them, you know,
shooting a breeze about North Carolina Duke,
you know game or what happened on “Real Housewives”
or whatever, just building that equity with people
will get you to, you know, get your ideas through
a lot more than, you know, fantastic PowerPoint
and a great, you know, explanation.
‘Cause people tend to do things I think a lot because of,
you know, their hearts over their heads.
- Hi, Michael.
Love the conversation so far.
My question’s a little bit more so
on the creator economy per se.
There are a lot of content creators,
whether you’re TikToks or podcasts, whatsoever,
and they have very different ways of making a living,
making money and being more mainstream.
What are the ways that you have seen creators
make this living and sort of what revenue streams
have been there and how do you see them changing
over the past few years and maybe in the future?
- Yeah, I think the revenue streams around entertainment,
you know, have not really changed in principle from,
I tell students this all the time, if you go back to the,
the ancient Roman chariot races.
You know, they had the kind of two
or three key revenue generating things
if you look at those races in the Coliseum,
they sold tickets to the event.
They had banners like, cloth banners hanging
in the Coliseum with names of little,
you know, little businesses on them.
And then they, you know, sold little statues
of the chariot racers outside, little wood cart statues.
So, you know, if you make great content,
you can monetize it either by charging people for it,
you know, subscriptions.
You know, if you’re a creator, I guess,
you know, you have a Substack
or you’ve got a Patreon channel.
You get people give you money.
Or you can because of the attention
that you draw based on what you’re doing,
you can get other people to pay for that attention,
which is advertisers, sponsors, you know,
people that wanna reach your audience.
And then the third is, you know, you can use your,
you know, brand and IP and likeness to create other kinds
of products, you know, merchandise.
T-shirts, hats, you know, other things, you know,
experiences and that kind of monetization model
has been around I think, you know,
as long as entertainment has been.
It’s just that now, you know, technology enables
more complex ways to do that.
So instead of selling a T-shirt or a hat, you know,
a Jackson Brown concert which is something
I bought 35 years ago.
Now you’re buying, you know, an NFT from, you know,
a Kanye West livestream, you know.
So I think it’s just understanding
that the, if you do make content,
you’ve got those three different ways that you can monetize.
- Hi, my name’s Emily.
Thank you so much for being here.
This has been great.
As a marketer I had a question for you
about brand awareness which you had mentioned earlier.
I was really surprised to hear how, you know,
relatively low the brand awareness of NPR is.
I was curious as CMO, how do you go about increasing
brand awareness especially considering
the increasing political polarization of people in the US
and the separate media bubbles that people live in?
- Yeah, it, well, I think the biggest
for brand awareness for an organization like us
is just financial resources.
I mean, you can get huge brand awareness if you,
you know, spend the money to buy, you know,
the access to see people’s time, so buying advertising.
We have more limited resources so we’ve gotta rely more
on taking the things that people are already engaged with
and cross-promoting other things that they might be
interested in, you know, trying to use
other people’s platforms.
The great thing is people do have a lot of trust
and respect and for our brand.
So, you know, things as simple as having our reporters
and hosts on other people’s shows.
You know, getting social shares of our content
in front of new people.
So, but to your question about
the bubbles and the polarization,
I have a kind of contrarian view on this whole bubble thing.
You know, I think that, you know,
we have more diversity in media outlets and media sources
and access to media than in ever in history.
I mean, everyone can be a publisher.
Everyone can have a Twitter feed.
There’s more discourse, public discourse
than there’s ever been in world history.
So the fact that there’s dispute
and polarization and people have different opinions to me,
is not new in the world.
I mean, that’s what we had civil war in the United States.
I mean, you know, we’ve had, you know,
we had colonization and empires.
I mean, it’s not like a thousand years ago
the world was this honky dory place
where everybody just agreed and sang kumbaya together.
So I actually look at it the other way.
I think that we are at, we actually have more,
you know, diversity and more inclusion
and more harmony than ever before because I think that,
the image people have in the past is that, yeah,
we didn’t have a lot of, you know,
dispute between the Republicans and Democrats
or there, you know, between mainstream American
and within mainstream American culture.
But what they forget is that there were big groups of people
who were just excluded from mainstream American culture.
So yeah, you know, all the, you know,
cisgender straight white men all agreed
but you didn’t was no, you know,
Native Americans didn’t have a story.
You know, gender non binary people didn’t have a story,
African Americans didn’t have, nobody else was at the table.
So you could say, yeah, we all agreed.
It was a great American.
Now all of a sudden where everyone’s sitting at the table,
finally, we’re starting to sit at the table
and people are upset that, well, wait a minute,
I don’t understand why we don’t agree anymore.
It’s like, well, because you didn’t let us
in the room before to disagree with you.
Yeah. - Thank you.
My name is Tarik Glenn.
I’m actually an undergraduate student.
I’m a junior at Haas right now.
And first off, I just wanted to thank you for coming back.
It’s very motivational seeing a black man
come back and pour back into the students.
But I just wanted to ask you being in such a successful role
and being a black man, what would,
what advice could you give me for someone
like a young black man who’s aspiring
to be in a similar position like you but having
to overcome adversity during that process.
- Oh, okay.
One thing you talked about, thank you for that comment.
You know, it just made me think about
how far we’ve come in terms of progress.
When I finished at Haas I remember being asked to come back,
it was maybe like only a year or two after finishing
to talk to students, to be an inspiration to them.
But this is a time when there were hardly any black students
at Haas and so some guy who is 26 years old,
who works in New York is considered to be an inspiration
to the few students that we had.
And now I guess it takes you know, being the CMO
of NPR to be…
So it’s great.
Shows that we’ve come a long, that there’s a lot more people
like you out there, which is fabulous.
But yeah, to your question about,
you know, how I guess keys to success.
You know, I think that the one lesson
this was taught to me years ago is that
there’s this arc that happens, especially for black men,
male leaders that we tend to not do as well in career
advancement early on but then tend to do well
later in our careers.
And that the paradox is because oftentimes
when you’re younger there’s this sort of
these preconceptions and you know, stereotypes about you
and so people tend to pass you over for opportunities.
But you keep your head down and you keep learning
and you keep getting better and you keep getting stronger
and people who get the chances ahead of you flame out.
And then what happens often, this happened in my career.
They come back to you later down the line and say,
oh, you’re still here.
Well, you know what?
We got this big, the house is on fire.
We tried everybody else and you know what?
Okay, put this guy in and you know.
And then because you’ve been preparing,
you actually knock it out of the park
and that’s, that’s happened to me
multiple times my career, but, you know.
So I think that that fact sometimes that we are overlooked
it though creates a quiet strength
and it creates something that people,
I think hopefully now are realizing that,
that we need to tap into more.
I am also an undergrad student here at Haas
studying business and media studies.
Thank you so much for the pieces of knowledge
that you’ve shared with us this far.
A question that I have for you is,
as you have navigated your journey for over 30 years,
early on in your career what helped you develop a niche
and kind of have that clarity in pursuing your,
like the role that you’re currently at,
or do you see that come in and kind of,
how do you navigate that journey?
I would say personally for me, I’m currently, you know,
as an undergrad student seeking to develop
my marketing aspirations.
It’s been a bit of a challenge to kind
of find that niche and see where I can merge my passions
and my talents.
So what advice would you have for someone
who is currently navigating that space?
Oh, thanks for the question.
Yeah, I think that you can’t really understand
what you like to do unless you do a lot of stuff, you know.
So I knew I’d like being around entertainment,
but I did, I tried to just do it.
When I was undergraduate I started this group called
the Campus Entertainment Board where we just
we put on concerts with local bands that we would get
from San Francisco and bring ’em out to campus.
And we, put, you know, throw parties and put on plays.
And you know, I played in a rock band for a little while.
I just did a lot of things and then those things actually
kind of helped me get a sense for what my niche was.
I realized like I wasn’t the best musician.,
I wasn’t the best actor, I wasn’t the best, you know,
singer, but I was really good at like,
kind of putting together the thing, the event.
Like making the connection about like,
what’s the artist that we should have on stage
at this a party and how much should we charge
for the tickets and who should we invite
and how can we make it really popular?
So I realized I like the idea of how
to like connect people to entertainment,
how to make them like, like promoting it,
making people wanna like it and come and engage with it.
And by doing that, I got to be around people
who are much more talented than me,
better guitar players, better actors or whatever,
but my role was to like make a spotlight shine on them.
And so that’s how I found my niche.
Now, you know, maybe if I had found that I was, you know,
a super great musician then I would’ve decided
I wanted to be, you know, a producer or writer
or the creator themselves.
But so I think that’s where you kind of
can sense it by just trying stuff out.
Get involved in entertainment projects at the school level,
with your friends and other people
and then you kind of see where you shine.
Thank you so much.
- Thank you.
Thank you so much, Michael.
I think we are out of time and I just wanna thank you
for your wonderful answers to all these questions
and also for your great optimism.
I mean, you’re really just have a vision
which is so inspiring to me and so positive in so many ways.
So thank you so much for coming back to Haas.
We’re very grateful to you.