For a very long time, the idea of the successful African-American businessman has been painted in a manner where many would readily believe the music industry and professional sports are the only valid avenues that are readily available. However, that is a misnomer of massive proportions. Recently, The Shadow League had the opportunity to interview David Rone, President of Time Warner Cable Networks and Time Warner Cable Sports. Upon reading that name it’s likely that some among our esteemed and educated readership have no idea who he is. He’s only one of the most successful men in sports news and broadcasting, named to Black Enterprise's “50 Most Powerful African-Americans in Sports” and as one of Sports Illustrated’s “101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports”. For all intents and business purposes, David Rone is the man. It's one of the many reasons why he is being honored at our event next week as the first recipient of The Shadow League Award for Leadership.
However, there was a time when he was simply the man next to the man. Rone says he always aspired to be in the position he’s in but the lessons learned along the way were integral to his leadership pedigree.
“The type and nature of the position were certainly something I had seen for myself for quite some time,” said Rone. “Really, it’s the confluence of a number of things I had done in the past. I had spent a number of years at Fox Sports as a senior executive, but never as the number one executive. I had moved on to the Creative Artist Agency where I was part of a leadership team where we were the number one executives, but it was an agency business. Part of the job was to go and build up that organization. When you see the Fox experience, then the CAA experience, then the opportunity to become employee number one at Time Warner Sports and grow that business from the ground up, it was really the natural evolution. It was indeed the next thing to do in my career. To be the builder of an organization was the right thing to do.”
As the old saying goes, heavy is the head the wears the crown. Rone says a primary method he uses is choosing the right team for the job.
“A couple things. It is my first belief that no organization runs on all cylinders without great people. So, I looked at the most important task and challenge of me coming in as a leader of this nascent organization was to make sure I got the best people in the world on the proverbial bus with me. Choosing the right teammates was first and foremost in my mind. We had to bring in a team and physically build a physical plant and facilities for two brand new regional sports networks being launched simultaneously in a 16-month sprint, and one of them is something that had never been done before in the history of American television, that was the first Spanish language regional sports network. There indeed are some massive challenges ahead of us, but I was confident in my ability to tackle those challenges as long as I had the right people on the bus.”
Honored by Broadcasting & Cable and Multichannel News as a 2014 Multicultural TV Leader, Rone says being having good mentors early on were integral for his career growth and he tries to give back in this regard as well. But the true leader is a lifetime student as well.
“Your real mettle is in the work ethic and skill set that you bring to bear. But I have been and am very fortunate that I have relationships with any number of people that I would definitely refer to as mentors,” he explained. “One specific gentleman who was a boss of mine at Disney (John Cooke) is who I would point to as my mentor in the true sense of the word. But I also take derivative mentee ship from leaders like Dick Parsons (current Los Angeles Clippers president) and Ken Chennault (chairman and CEO of American Express) and these incredibly accomplished African-American business leaders. I was able to witness, albeit from afar, them break through numerous barriers and really just create unbelievable business success. I’ve been able to look at those gentleman and try to mirror some of their business beliefs and tactics and the way that they carry themselves. I allow myself to be mentored in that aspect as well. It’s not always that direct guardian angel. It’s really looking at the field and saying ‘How can I learn from these incredible accomplished people’. It really does take on various different levels.”
As an African-American male in a leadership position, David Rone told The Shadow League that he is acutely aware of his obligation to represent his heritage and lineage in a positive light
“It exists, first and foremost, because I am acutely aware of my African-American heritage and lineage, therefore I feel a real desire, if not an overall responsibility, to sort of help others who happen to be African-Americans. I want them to succeed. I want to sort of give back and make a difference in that way. So, that’s with me. The idea that I am African-American is with me at every moment of the day. Yet, my gauge and my life starts with me just being David. When I present myself in my personal life or my business life, you’re meeting David.”
However, he says beating potential business partners over the head with one’s ethnicity is a detriment.
“I think it’s important for members of any minority class to hear,” he continued. “You have to be very careful in straddling the fine line between being very respectful and always honoring your gender, ethnicity or whatever it may be, but not being so focused on it that it become a personal chip that you bring into the room with you. That makes it so the person you are engaging with has something to deal with, which means you’re creating drama for them. I am absolutely all about honoring it, being aware of it, respecting it and giving back to it, but you have to be very careful not to thrust that upon people.”
Though David Rone has a myriad of proverbial skins on the wall from a business perspective, he says he still tries to learn from other business leaders of African-American descent.
“So much of my achievement and my desire to succeed has been born out of watching leaders like Dick Parsons and those people that I named for you. I love the idea that a reader or two of yours will read this article and see the things that I have to say and glean something from it that will be an inspiration to them. To do, seek out or learn something from this story. I’m honored and humbled that you guys would do this.”