Tom Freston: If you had $100 billion to give away, how would you spend it?

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


Question: If you had $100 billion to give away, how would you spend it?

Tom Freston: Oh boy. It’s hard to just give money away. Sometimes that’s the worst thing you could do. But I mean I would look to, say, the Gates Foundation, which now has 60 billions of dollars to give away. How are they doing it? And I think they’re going about it rather wisely. I mean they have put processes in place and objectives in place; and they’re targeting certain things in certain parts of the world that appear to be at first some of the lowest hanging fruit; some of the things that need to be done that might have the greatest leverage for us to move forward – looking at things like, you know, population growth, endemic disease, corruption, and try to apply it in ways that the money gets handed to people who are responsible for it; using techniques that seem to be proven to be effective. Hundreds of billions of dollars have already been wasted in people giving money away. But at the same time when people say, “Aid doesn’t work”, that’s really not true because a lot of aid does work. You can just look at some of the money that’s been spent recently for eliminating simple things like malaria and other diseases. And there’s been a lot of ways to effectively do that, and certainly we should learn from that. And there’s plenty of smart people working on exactly this. And there are . . . There would be ways to give away 100 billion dollars, although I’m sure you wouldn’t do it all in a . . . You wouldn’t do it all at once. Recorded On: 7/6/07