Turner's David Levy Confronts New Challenges - Lunch at Michael's

By Lunch at Michael's Archives
Cover image for  article: Turner's David Levy Confronts New Challenges - Lunch at Michael's

Originally Published May 30, 2003

David Levy is a relative unknown in the domestic ad community, so his elevation to the presidency of Turner Entertainment Sales and Marketing and Turner Sports came as a surprise to many outside the Turner organization. Within Turner, however, David was a logical choice when Turner's new CEO Phil Kent decided to streamline his operation and elevate Mark Lazarus to the top job overseeing Turner Entertainment Group and Turner Sports. A seventeen year Turner veteran, David had experience in entertainment sales, was responsible for developing and leading the sports sales division, and moved to the international side of Turner's business in 1994. Upon moving from sports to international, he was ironically replaced in the sport position by Lazarus. Follow the bouncing ball at Turner and there is a deep management team with extensive cross-over experience and responsibility.

As co-president of Turner International, David not only ran ad sales, but managed relationships with partners throughout the world, was responsible for new network launches and acquisitions, and he helped grow the division from $45 million in revenues in 1994 to $300 million last year (plus an additional estimated $100 million in revenues generated through the acquisition from EMI of 50 percent of the German music network Viva.) Taking over domestic ad sales for TBS, TNT, and Turner Sports, David admits, is a huge challenge, compounded by the reality of assuming responsibilities just weeks prior to the Upfront when strategies and relationships are already in place.

At Michael's Restaurant last week, David and I renewed our relationship. He discussed how he's approaching these challenges and some of the personal issues he's confronting that are equally, if not more challenging. David is no doubt an excellent poker player. There is obvious emotion bubbling under the surface, and he has strongly felt opinions and perspectives on many issues. On the surface he gives the appearance of being completely focused on business. There's an exterior defense system that keeps discussions coming back to the topics foremost on David's mind. Right now, he is consumed by the challenges of shifting into the domestic sales organization just weeks before a massive upfront. But he points out it was a seamless process for the Turner sales organization for three primary reasons: David didn't disrupt the key management team that had set Upfront strategies; he quickly met with as many key decision-makers as possible to listen to their needs; and he continued to have the day-to-day support of Lazarus.

But at our lunch just days before the Upfront 'broke,' we spent more time talking about a more life-changing transition he was recently forced to make when he and his wife Nicki learned their 11-year old son Brett has juvenile diabetes. While there is no comparison between the emotional difficulties of dealing with family health issues and the difficulties of meeting new corporate and business challenges, David noted similarities. "I found I had a tremendous amount of support to help me face these challenges, to learn, and to understand priorities. The important thing is that Brett's condition can now be controlled and managed." Both Brett and seven year-old Jake are active athletes, and David is looking forward to spending more time at home engaged with his family now that he will be doing less international travel. Of course, in his first weeks at his new job, David was pulling all-nighters at the office managing negotiations that generated significantly increased Upfront ad revenues at cost increases estimated between 7 percent and 11 percent.

As both an athlete and a sports fan, David was especially excited by Syracuse University's NCAA basketball championship. David graduated from S.U. in 1984 and like most SU grads, he has suffered since Syracuse lost in the NCAA finals to Indiana in 1987. Syracuse basketball fans often compare themselves to Boston Red Sox fans. The only difference has been that the Red Sox won the World Series in 1918. SU had never won the NCAA championship until this year. David knows his sports, and he also knows how to have fun. A common description of David among those who know him best is the one simple word: "fun."

While he admits he expects his new job to be "a lot of fun," he has a clear mandate to close the CPM gap between broadcast network television and Turner's commercial inventory. David outlines one of his priorities to be more aggressive integration with other AOL Time Warner divisions, especially Warner Brothers studio, HBO, and AOL. "We are looking at how to do business differently, and to integrating the assets of the corporation into our advertiser relationships. Marketing partnerships are a primary strength that can allow us to build more value for our advertisers.

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