Philippe Dauman

Paramount Leadership

As Viacom president and CEO, Philippe Dauman '78 works to guide the venerable media company through especially challenging times

By Peter Kiefer

Winter 2010

Ask any mergers and acquisitions attorney about a Schedule 13D report and they
will explain that it is a routine filing required by the Securities and Exchange Commission when an investor seeks more than 5 percent ownership in a company. Ask Philippe Dauman ’78, the president and CEO of Viacom, and he’ll tell you it changed his life.

It was 24 years ago when, as a senior associate in the New York office of
Shearman & Sterling, Dauman was pulled aside and told that a client—described only as “a theater operator from Boston”—needed some help. That client was Sumner Redstone.

Thus began a relationship, and a career in media and entertainment, that has spanned more than two decades and many of the most important and transformative events in the industry. Along the way, Dauman has steadily expanded his role from legal adviser to board member to chief executive, a position he took on in 2006.
“It was Sumner’s dream to buy Paramount,” Dauman recently explained at his immaculate 52nd-floor office in Times Square. “As his chief legal counsel at Shearman & Sterling, he asked me to have meetings with him to see if we could work out a deal. It got to the point where he was unhappy when he couldn’t reach me whenever he wanted to. So as the discussions with Paramount got more serious, he asked me over and he said: ‘You have to come work for me.’”

Dauman agreed, completing a seven-year courtship. The rest is history still currently in production.

As president and CEO of Viacom, Dauman oversees one of the world’s largest media portfolios—a stable that includes Paramount Pictures, MTV, VH1, BET, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon, among others. His job is not an easy one, especially at the moment. While the global market for entertainment content continues to grow, sweeping technological changes are impacting the media industries at a time when traditional advertising dollars are in scant supply and significant revenues from fast-growing new media ventures remain elusive.

Yet Dauman, the son of a Life magazine photographer, seems to be taking these challenges in stride.

“What this industry has been good at is adapting to technology,” he says. “As a content producer, we like changes in technology, because they can provide more opportunity for the consumer to interact with our content. We have people spending more of their day looking at our programming, so the biggest single challenge is how do you monetize the new form of viewing, and we are in the early days of that.”

Dauman’s negotiating skills have proven an important advantage in navigating
the increasingly complicated and global marketplace. He says he falls back on
skills learned in the classroom at the Law School and in less-traditional
educational settings, like friends’ poker tables during his card-playing days as a
Yale undergraduate.

These days, Dauman, who was raised in New York and is married with two children, maintains a sharp focus on growth, with a negotiator’s eye: A few years ago, he traveled to India to hammer out a joint venture with Indian media conglomerate Network 18 that yielded Colors, a new general entertainment broadcast network. In just 24 months, Colors has become one of the highest-rated broadcast networks in India. “No matter the location or the platform,” he says, “the primary strategy has to be satisfying consumers.”

Peter Kiefer is a New York–based journalist who has written for the Rome bureau of The New York Times.