Emmy-Award winning TV producer and University of Wisconsin-Madison alumna Erica Gruen spoke to MBA students about leadership as part of the M. Keith Weikel speaker series at the Wisconsin School of Business on April 19.
Gruen has worked extensively in the branded entertainment and cable television industries. Her accomplishments include a complete business and brand turnaround of The Food Network and several now-famous smash hits including Emeril Live!, Two Fat Ladies, and The Iron Chef.
During her time as the CEO of The Food Network, Gruen said she was always stretching her talent to solve problems, which was dually challenging and rewarding.
“Working for The Food Network was very hard at times because it was a difficult business problem that needed to be cracked,” she said. “On the other hand, what is better than food?”
During the speech, she emphasized that it takes a different kind of leader to be successful in today’s business world.
“To be a good leader, one must be strategic, practical, and results-driven. Anyone can learn to be a leader and prosper at certain times,” Gruen said. “You need to have all three of these to prosper as a leader during these times.”
Gruen explained how traditional media is rapidly changing and will ultimately benefit individual users.
“Big markets are giving way to a bunch of tiny little markets and making individuality viable,” said Gruen. “Media audiences are scattered and media companies no longer hold their attention—you control their attention.”
Gruen is the second woman to ever hold the CEO title at a cable network, and she recognized the challenges women continue to face in the business.
“It’s tough. A lot of people underestimated me,” she said. “[Being underestimated] can work to one’s advantage, but it can also be something you have to deal with.”
Today, she is a principal at Quantum Media and the president of Erica Gruen Consulting. She uses her creative and financial wisdom to build business for many of the world’s largest entertainment and publishing companies, including the BBC, AMC, the Comcast Networks, and Reader’s Digest.
Although she found success in the business world, Gruen’s background and education is in arts and humanities. She majored in psychology and English at the University of Michigan and earned her master’s degree in educational psychology at UW-Madison.
While in graduate school, Gruen was already putting her marketing skills to work as an organizer of several music concerts and festivals at UW-Madison, including the Folk Music Society that was held at the Great Hall in Memorial Union.
The school recognized Gruen in October 2012 as a distinguished fellow for her achievements as a visionary in television, new media, and advertising. In addition, she has been an advisor to the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship at the school for the past three years.