2008 Woman to Watch
Eileen O'Neill
President & General Manager, TLC, Discovery Communications, Inc.

Know Yourself
What was your most challenging professional achievement and what did you learn from this experience about your own personal strengths and weaknesses (limitations)?

There have been a few significant challenges that stand out to me. Most recently, the launch of our new network Planet Green was a big undertaking – from developing strategy, to hiring a top-notch team, to having one of the largest network debuts in recent history. It was such a rewarding experience.

Prior to that, I worked on Discovery Health Channel’s “Medical Honors,” which was a live Golden Globes style show that honored the best and brightest in medicine. It was an amazing opportunity to celebrate people who make such an impact in our lives, but I had no idea how complicated the logistics of running an awards program would be. Something else that stands out would be taking on Birthday Live, an all-day marathon of all-things childbirth, just two weeks after becoming acting GM of Discovery Health network. It was a true exhilarating trial-by-fire experience.

Through all of these experiences, I’ve learned to re-adjust my attention to detail, which is both a blessing and a curse. I surround myself with the best people and trust in their abilities but also love to get involved at all levels to make sure we’re hitting all the right standards.

What is the best way to reach out to and captivate an audience of senior-level management in order to discuss professional development opportunities within the business or to pitch new ideas?

Bringing cookies? Sugar helps any situation. Beyond that, I make it a point to live by a few principles – be clear, simple, passionate, and knowledgeable. Leading with these goals ensures thoughtful communication and open idea exchange.

How do you benefit as a leader by opening your office doors and allowing employees to freely address their concerns and ideas for the business?

I’m a firm believer in this approach – the best ideas can come from any level of the company. We’re all a big team working towards one goal and I make an effort to invite feedback and a fresh perspective at all times.

When you started your career what impact did mentoring have on where you are today in the business?

I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with and for people that have been on the lookout for me during my entire career. By working hard and being engaged in all aspects of the business, I’ve been able to demonstrate my commitment; more importantly, I’ve been offered great opportunities when those more senior to me have seen promise and given me a shot.

How critical is it for moving up the corporate ladder to familiarize oneself with the surrounding business and industry environment as well as networking with other industry professionals?

It’s vitally important… you need to embrace the industry to really understand it. It’s one of the reasons I’ve taken on a bi-coastal position with TLC – more frequent trips to Los Angeles will enable me to network with my colleagues and build TLC as a strong player in a major media market.
Be a Catalyst
What is the most unique aspect of the cable industry, compared to other industries that have kept you engaged through the years?

The cable industry is such an engaging landscape. It is both vast yet focused, and offers a unique value proposition. By being able to offer thoughtful perspectives on such a mosaic of topics, cable networks can really speak to their audience and deliver content that resonates deeply. I don’t think this is matched elsewhere.

What is the one aspect of doing business you hope that every person you work with will take away with them to incorporate in their everyday work?

Fairness. It’s that simple. I want people to sit across the table from me and know that I’m tough and have high expectations, but also that I’m fair and expect them to be the same. At no point do I forget this is a business, and we are often in negotiation, but it’s going to be a balance between winning and losing.

Be Fearless
Give an example of a business venture that you took a chance on, despite the odds, and ended up being a success for the business? What made you continue to push forward supporting this business venture despite the opposition?

I think becoming the President and GM of TLC in August is a timely example of being fearless. The network had experienced a major shift in focus during the first half of 2008 that unfortunately did not connect with the audience. I’m excited to take the reigns and take advantage of this brand’s strong audience engagement and loyalty to our compelling characters and stories. As one of Discovery Communications’ tentpole networks, all eyes are on our growth strategy, new program pipeline, and marketing initiatives and the entire team is focused on rebuilding viewer trust and filling our schedule with the best in non-fiction, real-life programming. Establishing TLC as a strong bi-coastal network is critical to the future of the brand and will help us tap into the excellent teams we have on both coasts, building towards a strong future.

What significance will mentoring have in regards to building new employees’ commitment to a company and the cable industry? 

As I mentioned before, I’ve had extremely positive experiences being mentored, and continue to believe that a strong mentoring program is critical for the success of a company. By establishing a deep level of support and commitment between employees, you are building loyalty and communication that is hard to duplicate in other ways. That said, it really must be a mentor/mentee relationship – it’s a two-way street that benefits both sides as a valuable exchange of ideas, perspective, insight, and creativity.