While working for General Electric in Mexico and Brazil, Andre Fernandez relied on local radio to help him become fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, not to mention developing his passion for bossa nova music. So it’s fitting that, as president of CBS Radio, he now oversees a group that encompasses 117 stations in 26 markets. Sadly, he notes with a laugh, none play bossa nova.
At just 47, Fernandez has already held senior executive positions at Telemundo, United Technologies Corp., GE and, most recently, Journal Communications, where he served as president/COO until taking the helm of CBS Radio in April 2015. In his first 10 months on the job, Fernandez says he has worked to create “more of a culture of innovation and risk-taking,” something he thinks the radio industry as a whole needs considerably more of. That helped earn him a spot on Billboard’s recently published 2016 Power 100 list.
As the diversity of his résumé can attest, Fernandez believes in reinventing himself professionally every so often.
“I’ve had to do that many times in my career,” he says. “I’ve worked in a lot of different industries and a lot of different countries and companies and settings, and that requires that you’re constantly making adjustments and taking risks and having to — in a way —re-create yourself over and over again. It certainly gets tiring, but it probably allowed me to get to this point at this age in my career, and it’s exciting and challenging.”
Raised in Brooklyn as the son of a professional musician father and dancer mother, Fernandez earned an economics degree at Harvard before launching his career on Wall Street, first as a banking associate with Brown Brothers Harriman in New York and then as assistant vp for Merrill Lynch, working in both New York and London. He currently resides in Connecticut with his wife and their three children.
What is the biggest issue facing the radio business?
This industry needs to continue to innovate. When I look at a lot of the streaming services and a lot of digital development, I’m actually surprised sometimes that more hasn’t been done or developed by traditional over-the-air broadcasters … They need to invest more in R&D and to experiment and, for some reason, they don’t or they haven’t … Companies need to have the courage to plow profits back into R&D and, if they do, I think they can ensure their future.
That’s probably the biggest issue that I see. Having come from GE, a large industrial company where [research and development] and what we used to call “NPI” — new product introduction — are just so key to your business, and where many millions of dollars are spent every year, I just don’t see that as much or, at times, at all in this industry, and I think the industry needs it.
What is one industry prediction you have for 2016?
I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually you saw a merger among the streaming companies [or] an acquisition or a merger between a pure streaming company and a traditional over-the-air broadcaster. The streaming companies have gotten very creative in innovating things digitally that over-the-air broadcasters probably should have done, but certainly could learn from. So I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw either a merger among streamers or some over-the-air/streaming combinations.
Is that something you’re looking to do at CBS?
I don’t think so, because I’ve been very pleased with our digital efforts. [There was] a decision some six [or] seven years ago at CBS to combine the digital efforts of local television and our radio business in a single group, and that’s our CBS Local Digital Media. So my digital efforts sit between TV and radio, and they’re two [or] three hundred people strong. They’re some of the most creative people that I’ve ever worked with.
In most markets, or nearly all in which we operate, we’re clearly the digital leaders because [of] that step years ago … I feel like I’ve been handed something very valuable here. We are very far ahead in terms of our digital efforts.
If you could rate yourself on the first 10 months on the job, what are some things that you are most proud of having accomplished at CBS so far?
There are a lot of things that I needed to focus my time on inward to make us a better business. Those things included improving certain processes, making sure that we had a better overall operating rigor, that there was better
communication among the different team members and constituents on the team, better transparency, faster decisions, clarity of decision-making. I also think that we’ve got a clear, more concise business strategy too. There’s now a culture where people can express their point of view, take some risks, take chances.
Is there more of that to come, or will the next year shift your focus from looking inward to looking outward?
There was a lot of that in the beginning that needed to get done. Now we can shift externally and execute more on our strategy … It frees me up to be much more externally focused.
What is one of your leadership philosophies?
So much depends on your reputation; guard it with your life. I work and lead by the highest standards of ethics and honesty, and I expect that of my team. I got some of the greatest compliments at my last company, Journal, when we were sold [to the E.W. Scripps Company] and a number of board of directors members told me when I was leaving, “You were always true to your word, and we never felt nervous or had any surprises with you, because you always did exactly what you said you were going to do. The company performed always how you said it was going to perform and, because of that, we always felt that we were in good hands.”
Is there anything you collect as a hobby?
I’m at a phase of my life where I’m un-collecting. I want more simplicity. I think in this era, people just amass too many things. I actually don’t think it’s healthy. You spend so much of your time in your life collecting and managing and caring for the things you’re collecting. I wonder if that’s really time well spent.
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