Professor Austan Goolsbee asked Michael Armstrong about the skills acquired at Booth and how he came to work internationally as senior vice president and general manager of BET International and Paramount Channel.
Goolsbee: What did you learn at Booth that has helped you in the rough and tumble world of cable TV?
Armstrong: Booth gave me the skills to analyze problems and find solutions. Sales and marketing came naturally to me, but I wanted the skills to analyze problems with proper rigor. Doing that in the classroom with people from different industries gave me a wider view of how to solve problems.
Goolsbee: Was it always your intention to work in global markets?
Armstrong: I did not, from birth, have an intense desire to work internationally. I had the opportunity to move into international and I was looking for a new challenge. I liked working in different markets, different business cultures and adapting to that. I met colleagues around the world with different notions of what success looks like and I had to cobble those together into something that works for Viacom.
Goolsbee: You must get to work with a great number of creative people. How do you bring that same level of imagination to a management job?
Armstrong: Managing creatives means you have to understand their craft and give them space. It's no different from managing finance people or anyone else. They're good at what they do; that's why you hired them. You can't out-creative them just as you can't out-finance the finance people.
Goolsbee: Magic Johnson is launching a 24-hour network aimed at African Americans and Bounce TV launched
last September. How does BET stay ahead of such new competitors?
Armstrong: Competition is not new in the TV industry. We've always had to compete for eyeballs. We have to be a brand that matters. Debra Lee often says that we get a report card every day; it's called the Nielsen ratings. The African American consumer doesn't have all the choices that others have in their viewing. We welcome other entrants but we also enjoy being the best in that space.
Goolsbee: The media is being reshaped by technology. Thanks to YouTube, anyone can be a broadcaster. How does Viacom respond to competition from user-generated content?
Armstrong: We see that as a good thing. Consumers will always want to find the best quality. User-generated content gives us the opportunity to find new top talent. We look for someone who has become a star from a self-published path and find a way to bring that star into our organization. It has changed our industry. They might still have been discovered in the traditional ways, but now they're going out and building a fan base of their own.
Goolsbee: You are still very young. What is your ultimate career goal?
Armstrong: I'd like to continue to excel in this industry. My goal is to be a great leader in the space. I want to continue to be happy and continue to have the balance with my family and continue to be me. I'm the same Michael. ■
Photo by Dan Dry