By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 3, 2008
Discovery Communications will announce today that company veteran Mark Hollinger will be promoted to the newly created job of chief operating officer, wrapping up a frenetic year of reorganization, acquisitions and layoffs at the Silver Spring cable television network.
Hollinger, 48, most recently headed Discovery's international operations, which account for about one-third of the company's revenue. He also was in charge of closing Discovery's 103 retail stores last year, which resulted in many of the company's more than 1,000 layoffs.
When chief executive David M. Zaslav came from NBC Universal in January 2007, he brought the bottom-line accountability of the network and its corporate parent, General Electric. He employed Hollinger's operations expertise to help execute last year's shake-up, which was meant to remake Discovery into an digital and online media company, improve profit margin and cut expenses to make the company more attractive for its public offering, planned for the second quarter this year.
Zaslav said in an interview that it made sense to make Hollinger Discovery's chief operating officer after a year of his essentially doing the job without the title or salary.
"We've been kind of marching side by side for the past year," Zaslav said. "Mark, as the operating officer, will be relentless in moving us toward that challenge of doing what we need to do to grow our margins aggressively and drive our top line."
Hollinger said he and Zaslav have known each other "from a distance" for many years and found a compatibility of management styles over the past year, part of which was spent eliminating executive jobs, including that of programming chief William M. Campbell III and his entire layer of management.
"I was able to be a source of history and of the reality of Discovery's businesses," said Hollinger, who started at Discovery in 1991 as deputy general counsel and moved up through the company's Asia and international divisions. "Virtually anything David was interested in and involved with, I was there with at least part of the picture."
Discovery, with 100 networks in 173 nations and claiming a worldwide audience of 1.5 billion, did not say what it would pay Hollinger.
Hollinger has been known over the past year as a cost-cutter, but that has not always been his reputation. In previous years, Discovery's information technology and human resources departments, both under Hollinger's supervision, became bloated, according to outside studies. Discovery acknowledged that the two departments needed the same kind of cuts made company-wide during the past year.
Hollinger called last year's layoffs -- 25 percent of Discovery's workforce -- one of his toughest tasks, because "it involved so many people, and a lot of people who had worked their guts out for the business," he said.
Zaslav said Hollinger was able to raise the profit margin in his international unit; Hollinger said he did so partially by moving some of the unit's executives overseas, eliminating a layer of high-cost management in Silver Spring.
He also said Discovery has been able to more efficiently sell its overseas advertising by moving from a regional to a market-by-market approach. For example, instead of blanketing Ford ads all over Discovery's European networks, Discovery now has a sales force in Russia that sells time on Discovery's Russian channel to Russian advertisers as well as to global companies.