The secret to succeeding in business is not just hard work — diverse interests, the ability to work with others and a fair amount of luck matter too, according to Frank Bennack Jr.
Bennack — who is the executive vice chairman and former CEO of the Hearst Corporation, the massive media company that owns Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar, among other magazines, newspapers and television programs — shared his professional journey with approximately 30 people at a Master’s Tea Monday afternoon in Timothy Dwight College. Starting with his humble beginnings as a classified advertising salesman for a San Antonio newspaper, Bennack talked about his journey through the media world in the digital age and his experiences as CEO of one of the largest media corporations in the world.
Bennack said he was able to navigate Hearst by having a flexible definition of success.
“[Many students] think that only a job that fits their idea of success is good enough for them, and that’s a mistake,” Bennack said. “They try to be the senator instead of first working for the good of the country.”
Bennack said every job that he has had in his career — whether it was working as a DJ for the local radio station, a stand-up comedian or a newscaster — has been ultimately useful in shaping the way he approaches work. He urged students to take advantage of the opportunities available to them, especially at a place like Yale. No experience is insignificant, he said.
Bennack also stressed the importance of having a broad range of interests and skills, including social and cultural interests like charity work, music or art.
“There’s a world outside what we do for a living, and being involved in that is a very important ingredient for success,” Bennack said. “Be broad and be eclectic in your interests,” he added.
Bennack also highlighted the importance of maintaining the absolute integrity and respect of business relationships through an anecdote about the Hearst Corporation’s partnership with ABC to buy cable channels such as ESPN, the History Channel and Lifetime in the early days of cable television.
At the time, Bennack said neither he nor the CEO of ABC knew if the venture would make money. But if they lost money, at least the losses would be spread out between the two of them, he said.
“Every time you do something, it’s going to be a part of your record and a part of who you are,” Bennack said. “Don’t ever think no one will remember if you do something dishonest or unethical.”
Nell Meosky ’14 said she found Bennack’s reflections on how he structured his early career interesting. She added that Bennack’s emphasis on working toward the future instead of dwelling on past accomplishments could be seen as strange at a place like Yale.
Alison Hutchinson ’15, another student who attended the Tea, said it was refreshing to hear someone from the older generation’s opinion on today’s college students.
“It’s always enlightening to hear a CEO say that he doesn’t want robots working for him,” Hutchinson added.
Bennack stepped down as CEO of the Hearst Corporation in 2013 after serving for over 28 years.