Frank A. Bennack, Jr.
Executive Vice Chairman & Former CEO
As a San Antonio native, how did your childhood in Texas influence your future career in media and publishing?
I was very fortunate because I grew up in a household where my father and uncle were engaged in the arts. At a very young age I observed, and on occasion performed, with them. They nurtured an inherent interest I had in the arts and media.
In high school, one of my coaches established something called “The Mighty Little Opera Company” which gave students an opportunity to perform. I was in numerous plays and was often the master of ceremonies. I got a lot of experience that was not typical for someone at that age.
Ultimately, a local radio station saw one of my performances and asked me to host a radio show for teenagers. When television came to San Antonio, they auditioned the local radio performers, so at 17 years old, I got to host my own television program.
In addition to my performing arts, I also had a background in oratory and debate which resulted in my being offered a position at The San Antonio Light newspaper after winning an oratorical contest sponsored by the newspaper. That began my exposure to the print side of media and newspapers.
Growing up in San Antonio, having the exposure to so many different avenues of media, and first-hand experience with theatre, radio, television, and print was crucial to the beginning of my career as a media executive.
During your time at Hearst, how has your leadership style evolved and what motivates you as a leader?
Early on, I learned that helping my colleagues succeed, motivating them, and understanding that my success was tied to theirs, was the key to successful leadership.
At its core, leadership is about fostering an environment where your colleagues can succeed. It’s about your interaction with those who are around you. No leader can succeed on his or her own. As a leader, you’re motivating others. Their success leads to your success.
And that goes hand in hand with always doing the right thing. It sounds simple, but as a leader, when you make decisions that involve others, doing the right thing, even if it isn’t the easiest or fastest option, will always benefit you in the long run. Demonstrating that to those around you encourages them to also do the right thing.
What is one attribute or trait you think has benefited you the most in your career?
I tell my colleagues who aspire to higher positions and who want to grow in their jobs that there are two key ingredients. First, you need to be a strong communicator, a good public speaker who can express a point of view. And the second piece is you need to be able to write well. What most successful leaders have in common – whether their field be media, nonprofit, technology, government – is they are good speakers and good writers. You need good ideas, but you also need to be able to express those ideas persuasively.
You’ve balanced a trailblazing media career with a commitment to philanthropy and civic engagement. How does community leadership go hand in hand with business leadership?
I’ve learned that giving back to the community, engaging in civic and philanthropic initiatives, generally ends up being on your own time. Good executives and good employees are able to balance their “day job” with civic engagement. But when you find a cause or area that you are passionate about, you can find the time.
I’ve had the privilege to work with several organizations such as The Lincoln Center, the American Heart Association, and United Cerebral Palsy to name a few, and It’s rewarding to know you are helping and creating opportunities for others.
Those of us who have success in business and in life owe a responsibility to give back. I’m a big believer in that regard and know it is a core tenant of TBHF’s philosophy. If you concentrate only on your commercial interests, you are missing out on a lot of opportunities, and society is poorer for it.
Giving back to the community and being involved in charitable organizations comes with a number of added benefits. Of course you don’t do it for the benefits, you do it to help people. But your philanthropic and civic engagement creates opportunity to meet others in the community. A lot of the relationships I have in business have been enhanced or started because of working together with other business leaders on charitable or civic activities.
Being a leader in business, community engagement and philanthropy all contribute to a full, well-rounded, and enriched life.
One of TBHF’s core values is excellence. How do you define “excellence” in business?
The nuances may vary depending on what business you are in. In the media and publishing world, one of the main components to achieving excellence is growing the size of your audience, which demonstrates excellence.
However, I think the principles I mentioned earlier – making sure your employees have the tools for success and always doing the right thing, even when it isn’t the easier option – are universal truths and important factors in any business leader achieving excellence. Excellence is something that you must continuously strive for. Excellence is about being a little better than those with whom you compete and recognizing that mediocre is not a rewarding outcome. We are human, so we won’t always win every time, but if our target is excellence and we put in the work, we can achieve excellence more often that we think.