Tom Freston
Fmr. Pres. & CEO, Viacom
04:08

Tom Freston: A New Chapter

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Our lives should have multiple chapters.

Tom Freston

Tom Freston was one of MTV's founding executives and until recently served as CEO of Viacom. Freston is responsible for the generation-defining ad campaign "I Want My MTV." In 1987 he became the CEO of MTV Networks, using his position to advance the networks' position in new markets, as well as launching several ancillary product lines and tie-ins, including "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," "The Real World," "Beavis and Butthead," "South Park" and "SpongeBob Square Pants." From 2004, Freston led Viacom, overseeing all cable network properties (MTV Networks and Showtime Networks), the motion picture businesses of Paramount Pictures, and the publishing operations of Simon & Schuster. He resigned in September 2006. Freston was educated at New York University and is currently on the Board of Trustees for Emerson College in Boston. Ideas recorded on: 11/5/07
Transcript

Topic: A New Chapter

Tom Freston: Well one thing I’ve been working on lately, I’ve been sort of involved in the not-for-profit world on two fronts. One is I’ve been working with Bono, old friend. And he has gotten me involved in terms of helping him reorganize and move forward with the sort of little ecosystem he’s developed, along with the Gates Foundation, and George Soros, and Warren Buffet and people like that, which is really about raising awareness, raising money and allocating money in a smart way against the extreme poor. And in his case it’s in Sub-Saharan Africa. So he’s got Data, which is a lobbying and activist . . . It’s a . . . basically a lobbying and policy shop. There’s one which is a consumer activist organization. And there’s this thing called Red . . . Product Red you might have seen in the windows of the Gap which basically tries to tap into the consumer spending power that goes on where a certain portion of the profits get sent directly to the global fund and get allocated for, in this case, anti-retroviral drugs for people with HIV and AIDS. So I’ve been helping them find people to run these companies and reorganize the way that they’re currently set up so they can sort of take themselves to a different level of effectiveness. And I would just say as a plug for them, they’ve accomplished so much. It’s really quite an impressive story to date, and a lot of smart, dedicated people have been working on this problem now very actively since the last six or seven years. I’m also have been . . . I returned recently a couple of times to Afghanistan, which is a place I lived in for many years in the ‘70s. And I’ve been involved there with both some specific reconstruction efforts and talking to various people there about what that country needs, and how I might be able to help in terms of making the kind of connections as they almost start over again after 30 years of war. So those have been, you know, two things that have been somewhat gratifying to me, and quite different from what I did in my prior career.

Question: How do you feel about your new career?

I feel good. I mean look, I was on a very fast-paced job. Not only MTV and MTV Networks, but __________ Chief Operating Officer, Chief Executive Officer of Viacom, running a public company. A very big responsibility, and a lot of things about that life that are enjoyable. But at the same time, I do find that after 26 years it’s like, you know, that was a long time to do anything – a quarter of a century. So . . . And I had a life before. I had a career and life before I even started in that business. So I’ve always been a fan . . . I’ve always said you should do several different things in your life. Have a bunch of different chapters or parts. And sometimes you just need to be kicked into the next part; or you know just for sake of comfort or repetition you end up doing the same thing maybe longer than you should. So I’m exhilarated now. It’s been a bit of an adjustment period, but I . . . but I feel every day when I get up, I’m gonna do things that I’m really passionate about or care about. And there’s a portfolio of things that I . . . that isn’t so much __________ well you have this job, so this is a bunch of problems you have to deal with. I’m not so much in that defensive mode at the moment, which is the case for most people who . . . Say if you’re a CEO of a public company, a lot of it you’re playing defense. You’re dealing with problems or crises. At the moment in the smaller life I have for myself I’ve got a lot less of that, which is a good thing.

Recorded On: 7/6/07


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