August Turak

Author Consultant Speaker

The Next Fortune 500 Female CEO (It's a Lock)

In a recent article, More Women Are Primed to Land CEO Roles, the Wall Street Journal offered a short list of the 10 women most likely to be named CEOs. While all of these women are spectacularly accomplished, Anne Sweeney, co-chair for Disney Media Networks and president of Disney/ABC is clearly the front runner. I feel so strongly about this issue that if some moss-backed board doesn’t give Ms. Sweeney the nod and damn well soon I fully intend to sell my entire stock portfolio and put the cash under my mattress. (Alas the bump won’t be nearly as big as it was several years ago so I doubt I’ll lose much sleep.)

Ok so I’m biased: I’ve known and admired Anne for over 30 years. In early 1981 I joined Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment Company (WASEC) the joint venture of Warner Communications and American Express that provided The Movie Channel, Nickelodeon, and later MTV to the fledgling cable television industry. I was so impressed by a young woman that I met at my orientation that I made a bee-line back to my office, took a few deep breaths, and called to ask her out. Anything but a ladies man this was atypical behavior for me. Unfortunately it was also atypical for the young lady in question: Anne Sweeney politely but firmly turned me down adding perhaps to soften the blow, “I don’t date inside the company.”

Luckily everybody at WASEC gradually bonded (in other words we partied a bit), and over time, though my romantic pretensions were never realized, Anne Sweeney and I became great friends. Though I’ve lived in New York City and visited countless times I’ve only taken one horse drawn carriage ride through Central Park. An experience I’ll never forget because I took it with Anne. My mother, a Kelly and like Anne Irish to her fingertips, took to her at the first and only time they met and for the rest of her life always asked me about her.

Over the years we went our separate ways as she moved West and I eventually moved South, but I’ve watched in awe as Anne, who started as a secretary for Nickelodeon’s head of programming, Gerri Laybourne, sure footedly moved up the corporate ladder with breathtaking speed. And though her wonderful family must assuredly hold pride of place, I flatter myself that besides those closest to her no one is prouder of Anne than I am.

Admittedly just because my Mom adored her and I may still be foolishly fond of her does not justify my contention that Ms. Sweeney is the first among equals in the Journal’s pantheon of super accomplished women. (Though if they had known my Mom the head hunters and corporate search committees would be forced to agree.) But anticipating your cynical objection, I have another proverbial card to play.

Anne’s impressive resume speaks for itself as do those of her colleagues. But as every corporate recruiter, pro scout, and football coach knows, there is always the “X Factor:” those intangibles of spirit, heart, and character that used to separate the men from the boys, but still determine who has the “right stuff. Almost impossible to quantify, the X Factor transcends skills, talent, and resume and goes to the essence of the candidate. You can’t cram for the SATs in hopes of making up for years of academic neglect, and you can’t bone up on your X Factor for your interview. Your X Factor represents the sum total of who you are and what you have become over a life time of real world choices.

[caption id="attachment_4748" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Anne Sweeney, August Turak & MTV Alumni having dinner in NYC resturant"][/caption]

A couple years ago Anne and I happened to be in New York City, and we decided to meet for a drink in a Greenwich Village saloon. I hadn’t seen her in years and I admit that my first impression as she strolled through the door was a mixture of astonishment and jealousy: Though my own time in the corporate trenches had subtracted most of the hair from my head and added a few notches to my belt, hers had left nary a wrinkle or ounce to tell the tale. A year or so earlier Forbes had compiled a list of the 100 most powerful women in the world, and Anne was on it. So by way of breaking the ice the first thing I said was, “Tell me Sweens, what does it feel like to be one of the most powerful women in the world?”

Not in the least taken aback her blue eyes lit up as she smiled. “Well I’ll tell you, Augie,” she said. “When that article came out I went home and over dinner with my family I said, ‘Guess what, Forbes magazine says Mommy is one of the most powerful women in the world.’ My eight-year-old daughter’s spoon stopped midway to her mouth and she said, ‘Is that a good thing Mommy?’ Her question put everything in perspective. My daughter reminded me that if we just worry about getting the ‘good things’ right everything else is just icing on the cake.”

In my not so humble opinion that story closes the deal for Anne Sweeney. She has all the X Factor even the most challenging CEO position will ever require. Wherever she lands, the first thing I’ll do is congratulate her. Then I’ll buy the stock….

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