Discovery, winter olympics, CEO technology

The CEO who is going for gold

State-of-the-art technology, the Olympics and taking a risk is pushing one CEO to new heights. Joanne Frearson talks to JB Perrette, CEO of Discovery, on how innovation is taking his firm to the next level.

I meet JB Perrette, CEO of Discovery Networks International, on the set of the company's new Winter Olympics studio, which will be used in South Korea during the PyeongChang 2018 games.

Discovery Networks is in the process of testing new technologies for the event and are planning to wow the world with an innovative state-of-the-art studio at the Winter Olympics. It is part of the broadcaster’s plan to meet changing consumer demands through innovation.

Perrette tells me: “Technology is revolutionising industries. The internet has turned a lot of things on its head. Our strategy is really shaped by changing consumer behaviour, understanding it and then changing our own storytelling and brands to meet the new demands of those consumers.

“Changes in technology are only going to further accelerate,” he explains, adding that, to prepare for the future, companies “are going to have to be much more nimble. Those that can be nimble, faster and more resilient are going to win.”

Perrette has noted the changes in how people watch TV shows in recent years – not just on TV sets but also smartphones, tablets and laptops. Future CEOs, he explains, will have to be innovative in order to stay ahead.

“I think the level of disruption going on requires a resilience of flexibility, a fluidity, a need for constant creative thinking that may be more demanding than 20 years ago,” he says.

He tells me the critical ingredients future CEOs will need in order to meet these challenges are resourcefulness, resilience, staying on the offence, being on the front foot and having a good team.

“Often there are no simple answers, and having a plan A is insufficient,” he says. “You have to keep progressing the organisation forward, despite all the change and lack of visibility of what the future economy, industry or consumer habits hold. You have to continue to evolve the company.”

For a company to evolve he believes the CEO should be prepared to take risks and go into the areas which consumers are demanding. He gives me the example of how Discovery has evolved from being a traditional documentary maker to a sports broadcaster.

He says: “Many people scratched their heads at the time and said, wait a second, Discovery is this non-fiction storytelling company – what do they know about sports? We looked at it a little bit differently and said at the end of the day, we are the leaders in real-life entertainment.

“It is probably no more dramatic, no more excitement, no more passion in real life entertainment than sports.” And sport, Perrette points out, is one big area where people are willing to pay for content.

His advice for future CEOs wanting to take risks is to determine what their differentiators and competencies are. “You need to have a differentiated offering, something where people are going to come to you for first,” he says.

CEOs also need, he explains, “good business acumen, good leadership skills, good talent development and an appreciation for strong communication” as well as to know when to make judgements, which he thinks is the most difficult to master.

“In our environment you can spend more money, you can invest in more content and volume, but it does not necessarily improve your odds of success. You have to be very comfortable being uncomfortable.

“We know that consumer habits are changing, but the future of how exactly it is all going to pan out and what works and what does not work, is a question which we debate and discuss all the time. One can end up being paralysed by it, but you have to be willing to take bets and place investments.”

Another thing that he suggests is evolving for CEOs is the changing nature of the workforce. Millennials now make up a large percentage of employees in the workforce and they want to feel like they are working for a company they are part of.

He says: “Employees want to feel like there are no more walls –they want to feel like they are understanding what is happening to the business.”

“There can’t be static groups anymore,” he continues. “You need to take the benefits of a social network, of shared learning, shared experiences, connecting the dots and trying to harness that for good in terms of getting employees to change and progress within an organisation.

“We use our workplace tool, which is our own social network, to invite and inspire everybody in the organisation no matter where you are and what level you are at, to help us, share your idea and what have you done, showcase it and celebrate it.”

Despite all these advances in technology, shifting consumer behaviour and workforce practices, he confesses to me that CEO jobs can be lonely because, ultimately, you are the person who is going to be making the decisions and people are relying on you to make the right calls.

This article was published in our Business Reporter Online: Future CEO.

Get our latest features in your inbox

Join our community of business leaders