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Media All-Star: Ray Rodriguez

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NEW YORK As he walked down the hall for his first official magazine photo shoot, the president and COO of Univision Communications stopped to admire a framed ad of a smiling Latina girl in a corridor of Univision's WXTV 41 TV station in Teaneck, N.J., 15 miles from New York City.

What grabbed his attention was a Univision tagline, from 2005, that read: "My dad says I have $763 billion in disposable income." Ray Rodriguez seemed overtaken by the message, as if stumbling on the tremendous buying power of the U.S. Hispanic market for the very first time. "It's powerful," said the Media Executive of the Year.

Power can be described in many ways, specifically Rodriguez's promotion to president and COO of Univision Communications in February 2005, charged with overseeing not only the eponymous No. 1 Spanish-language network in the United States, but the robust portfolio that includes broadcast channel TeleFutura, cable network Galavisión, Univision Radio, Univision.com, Univision Music group and Univision Móvil.

That it is Rodriguez's first sit-down with media might come as a surprise to the few who have not followed the trajectory of the media powerhouse that was purchased in March of this year for $12.3 billion by an investor group including Madison Dearborn Partners, Providence Equity Partners, Texas Pacific Group, Thomas H. Lee Partners and Saban Capital Group.

The Cuba-born Rodriguez, based in Miami, has weathered the ups and downs of Univision's at-times fractious dealings with Televisa, the Mexican broadcast conglomerate that supplies Univision network's top-rated programming. (There is a still-active lawsuit against Univision.) Rumors of a fine levied on Rodriguez by former chairman and CEO Jerry Perenchio is part of Univision lore: Perenchio had forbidden executives to talk to the press, and Rodriguez broke the rule. "Jerry was so upset that he would've fired me, but we worked together so well so it was a slap (he pats the back of his hand for emphasis). He was really strict about it, and I totally understand."

Rodriguez says the two are still close, but now, Rodriguez and the new CEO, Joe Uva—until April of this year CEO of OMD Worldwide in New York—have started to open doors for the future. "Our business needs to evolve, and we need to reach out to folks and get our story out there," says Rodriguez, 56.

It's only fitting that the man at the root of the company's growth for nearly 17 years in various roles (director of talent relations; svp/operating manager of the Univision network; Univision network president) can finally speak candidly and with resolute determination about the future of the company—and his dedication to it.

"I'm privileged because I'm in a position where I can make things happen, and that's a wonderful thing," says the married father of three grown children.

Uva says he had met Rodriguez only once a few years back before joining the company. "You could tell he is very respectful of other people's thoughts and opinions. He's not quick to judge, but he is quick to act, which is a tremendous advantage for Univision."

Colleagues, clients and marketers heap similar praise: he's kind, engaging, charismatic, a tough businessman, modest, they say.

"One of the things that I appreciate most about Ray is he has this clear-thinking ability," says Alina Falcon, the evp and operating manager for Univision network, who supercedes Rodriguez's tenure by four years. "I may bring him a problem that I've been working on for weeks, I can summarize the issue with him, and he's able to separate all the minutiae and clearly pinpoint what the facts are in order to help in the decision-making. It's a great release to know we have someone like Ray"

The exclusive broadcast of the World Cup in 2006 and this year's advocacy, via radio and TV, in assisting Latino residents become U.S. citizens certainly have added vigor to an already stellar year.

For the first quarter of 2007, net revenue increased 9 percent to $437.3 million, from $402.6 million in the first quarter of 2006, according to corporate reports. Adjusted income from continuing operations increased 15 percent to $66.1 million in 2007, from $57.4 million in 2006. Full-year net revenue reached $2.1 billion in 2006, an increase of 11 percent from the year prior.

Univision network averaged a 2.0 rating in prime time for total households in the season-to-date 09/18/06 to 05/24/07, tying for fifth place with CW. Among adults 18-49 in the same time period, Univision garnered a 1.6 rating, beating CW and carrying the sole torch as the fifth network, according to Nielsen Media Research.

"On a lot of nights, we're bumping the big four," Rodriguez says, adding that the move to the National Television Index in February of last year set a new bar. "We want to be measured with everybody else."

Plus, it gives the company more opportunities with advertisers.

Monica Gadsby, CEO of SMG Multicultural, a division of Starcom MediaVest, based in Chicago, has signed multiyear deals for Miller Brewing and Procter & Gamble to work with all of the Univision properties, with the exception of the music group. "We have respected Ray's ability to have such a keen understanding of the consumer that has driven to the success of Univision," she says.

Uva says Rodriguez even excels in his hobbies. "I don't know if you're aware of this, but Ray is a world-class sports fisherman. A couple of years ago, he won the Billfishing World Championship. So if you ask my opinion about Ray, I'd say, women adore him, marlin fear him."

Rodriguez isn't looking to change a thing.

"From the very first year after I joined Univision, I didn't want to leave," he says. "Somebody's going to have to kick me out."