Excellence by the Graham

CNBC President and CEO Pamela Thomas-Graham is worth her weight in gold as the highest-ranking African American in the ultracompetitive cable news industry

making her one of the highest-ranking African American within the cable news network’s ranks. She topped that distinction this past February when she accepted her current post at CNBC proper, becoming the most powerful African American in the cable news industry.

To many, her most recent career achievement comes as no surprise. “Pamela has very impressive academic credentials and a strong résumé, coming from McKinsey,” says Robert C. Wright, chairman and CEO of NBC, CNBC’s parent company. “She comes across as smart, well-rounded, and personable. She is diligent and dedicated.”

Just the sort of characteristics necessary to help CNBC retain its status as ruler of the cable business news domain. For instance, 76% of respondents to a 2000 survey of cable business news viewers conducted by Mendelsohn Media Research cited CNBC as the leading source of their financial information. Forty-three percent came in for CNN and Bloomberg got the vote of 33%. Viewers who watched both Business Center and CNN’s Moneyline News Hour, chose CNBC’s program two to one, rating it higher in content, scope of coverage, and market data.

CNBC’s revenues–relying on advertising and subscriber fees from cable and satellite operators–reflect its popularity. Sales nearly tripled from $196 million in 1996 to $507 million in 2000. One-year sales jumped most notably between 1999 ($380 million) and 2000 ($507 million)–an increase of 33.42%, thanks in no small part to Thomas-Graham’s efforts in translating CNBC’s television success to the dotcom side of the business when she took the helm in 1999.

Now, as president and CEO of CNBC, a $500 million company, she faces a more arduous task. She must focus on keeping the entire network on top in the face of a weak economy, a shrunken advertising market, and more hard-line, targeted competition in the cable news space.

At press time, Fox News was hinting at the possibility of a new stocks and bonds network. And the ink on the appointment of Walter Issacson–who revitalized the Time magazine franchise during his tenure in editorial management–to chairman and CEO of CNN is barely dry. Issacson is seeking to work his resuscitation magic again, this time on the AOL Time Warner-owned network, which includes several channels, among them CNN Headline News and the business news channel CNNfn. His mission: to knock Thomas-Graham’s organization from the top of the heap and reclaim CNN’s business news dominance.

If her acceptance of previous career challenges are any indication, Thomas-Graham’s riposte to the threat of an escalated ratings melee will ring out loud and clear: Bring it on. She can afford to make such self-assured pronouncements. On the strength of her achievements, Thomas-Graham could strut around as proudly as the peacock that adorns the CNBC logo. Her desire to win, however, doesn’t overpower her management style.

“She’s very much a team player,” says CNBC on-air reporter Sharon Epperson. “She’s very open and receptive to new ideas.”

At the tender age of 38, Thomas-Graham has built a remarkable career and blazed a trail of many “firsts.” Last year, we selected her as a professional

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