As NBCUniversal’s Linda Yaccarino gears up for another frenzied upfront season, the veteran sales leader set aside some time to share why a successful career is all about “curiosity and humility” and broadening your skills and opportunities by NOT staying in your lane.
Tell us about what you are doing now.
"Given the choice between leading transformation or getting led by it, I’ll always pick the former."
I’m entirely focused on future-proofing our company – making sure NBCUniversal continues to blaze a trail in the content and monetization space. Seven years ago, when I joined NBCU, we were competing with other traditional media companies. Fast forward, a new mix of companies and growing platforms have completely altered our competitive landscape. And we’re better for it. It’s forcing us to re-think our entire business, disrupt our skillsets, reenergize our culture, and see new ways that content, data, and distribution can intersect. We’re also reinventing our relationships with marketers, content providers, and distributors. When it comes to transformation, it’s never finished. So, if you talk to me tomorrow or a year from now, I’ll give you the same answer. Given the choice between leading transformation or getting led by it, I’ll always pick the former.
How did you get to where you are today? What pivotal moments did you face along the way?
Once I fell in love with the content and advertising business, there was no turning back. And once I got here, I became disciplined about laying out a career plan. Along the way, I’ve had excellent mentors, who’ve weighed in and helped me finesse that plan. I always wanted to work with the absolute smartest leaders at the very best companies in this industry, so I could learn how to do the job right. This kept me circling two companies, WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal. After Comcast acquired NBCUniversal, [NBCUniversal CEO] Steve Burke supported the vision to bring all advertising and partnership teams under one roof. Of course, it took some getting used to in the marketplace. But presenting one unified portfolio created unprecedented opportunities for marketers and audiences. And now, guess what? Several other companies have followed our lead. Coming together and investing in one NBCUniversal set a great example for the entire advertising industry. Looking back, this remains one of the most pivotal moments and one that resulted in real, meaningful change.
What do you see as the major opportunities and challenges for women today?
"...there’s still plenty of work to do, and I will continue to be a champion for women in this industry."
Being a woman has been one of the greatest advantages of my career. Qualities traditionally associated with women, like relationship building, collaboration, and problem-solving – originally made me a stronger salesperson. And I’ve learned innovation is born at the intersection of those qualities. Those same skills, combined with maturity and the business acumen to navigate a boardroom, have now made me a stronger executive. But of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges. There is still this perception that instead of a woman being a hard-charging executive, she’s bossy or aggressive. Still, I maintain that opportunities for women have never been greater. There’s a climate of awareness surrounding what’s gone wrong with more investment in making it right. We’re finally talking about equal pay, equal boardroom representation and giving women the seat at the table they’ve earned. But there’s still plenty of work to do, and I will continue to be a champion for women in this industry.
What solutions or advice can you share?
Considering the dizzying pace of change—no one on Earth can keep up—you have to remain curious and humble about what you don’t know. That’s why it’s critical to get as many informed opinions as possible and maximize your inputs. It’s how to shape your own opinion of the market and hone your instincts. Many of the major opportunities in my own career—whether it was establishing cable programming on an equal playing field to broadcast or pioneering a new industry currency at NBCUniversal—started with this mixture of curiosity and humility. I refuse to stay in my own lane. I’ve been everywhere in this industry—from programming to ad sales, and cable to broadcast, linear combined with digital—because I didn’t want to limit my thinking and lose my sense of where the market was going. And that variety of perspectives has been invaluable. Whether you’re just starting out, or a seasoned executive, don’t get pigeonholed into a narrowly defined path. If anyone ever says you need the exact cookie-cutter qualifications or experience as the previous person in a role, don’t listen. Anyone with this mindset is allergic to change, in which case, you don’t want to work for them anyway.
Who helped you in your journey, and what advice did they give you that really shaped your thinking?
"There is absolutely no code for genuine creativity or any algorithm for vision."
Ted Turner had a big impact on my career. When I worked at Turner Broadcasting, now WarnerMedia, we made some pretty bold moves. Ted’s conviction was contagious. He was a visionary. When people talk about how we’ll all be replaced by AI and automation, I think about the way Ted Turner transformed the industry. There is absolutely no code for genuine creativity or any algorithm for vision.
What one thing would you have done differently early in your career if you had the right bit of advice?
For all of the things I’m proud of, there’s a list of things that I didn’t do because I wasn’t brave enough, imagined was too difficult, or wanted to wait until I was “ready.” I’d like to run back and turn off that little voice that talked me out of trusting my own instincts. You can only transform if you possess the courage to shake things up. It is challenging to have that bravery when you’re just starting out, but it is, by far, your most important asset.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, money or talent would be no object, what would you be doing?
Does Anna Wintour need a co-editor? My mild fashion addiction aside, in truth, I’ve always felt an entrepreneurial spirit coursing through my veins—so if I wasn’t doing this, I would have figured out a way to venture out and start a company of my own. Earlier in my career, I didn’t have the resources to take that kind of risk, so I consider myself extremely fortunate to work at NBCUniversal, a company that supports entrepreneurial ideas. It’s the absolute best of both worlds.