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

CNBC.com from a side project with 25 staff members into a dynamic, award-winning site with 1.5 million visitors per month that leveraged the power of its broadcasting counterpart. “She had to hire approximately 100 new people in an extremely competitive market, and she did it in record time with little fuss,” says Wright.

By February, however, the robust economy fueling the marketplace slowed, forcing companies across the board to tighten their belts. In January 2001, Wright mandated companywide staff cuts of between 5% and 10%. Within a month, CNBC.com announced it would lay off 26% of its workforce and fold the dotcom arm back into CNBC’s operations. It was a move many media outlets made to streamline their operations. “She took the news as well as one could,” says Wright.

Around that time, Thomas-Graham was named president and COO of CNBC. Her duties for the cable network–managing all aspects of editorial, production, marketing, communications, and technology–still included management of the Website. Known for her problem-solving skills, she helped strategize CNBC.com’s new direction. In April 2001, CNBC announced it would be merging CNBC.com with Microsoft’s MSN MoneyCentral to form a new, personal finance Website–CNBC on MSN Money–which launched this past July. That same month, Thomas-Graham was named CNBC’s latest CEO.

Microsoft will take over general operational management, leaving Thomas-Graham free to focus exclusively on keeping CNBC–viewed in more than 166 million households worldwide, with 79 million of them in North America–winning the cable business news ratings game. Viewers have a median household net worth of more than $1.1 million, are well educated, and more than half are top business managers (CEOs, COOs, CFOs, presidents, owners, or partners).

The two linchpins of Thomas-Graham’s responsibilities are programming and advertising-sales. At press time, Business Center was the No. 1-rated evening cable business news show, with other CNBC shows Squawk Box (one of Thomas-Graham’s husband’s favorites) and Market Wrap performing well in the ratings.

It’s the advertising, however, that drives the network’s bottom line. “The value proposition around CNBC is the exclusivity of our audience,” says Thomas-Graham. That was good news when the economy was more generous: advertisers–a significant portion of whom are financial services companies–tuned in and paid up for 30-second spots directed toward the network’s affluent audience. But now pockets aren’t as deep, and the media industry as a whole is feeling the crunch.

CNBC is no exception. In a meeting at NBC’s Madison Avenue office, John Kelly, senior vice president of NBC Cable National Ad Sales, informs Thomas-Graham that the state of New York has just bought $200,000 of fourth-quarter advertising time. “It’s not a huge amount of money,” he admits. “But it’s a market we’ve been after for a while.”

Thomas-Graham is busy brainstorming strategic initiatives to increase cash flow and grow CNBC’s viewership. Plans include new programming, such as CNBC World. Launched in Aug
ust, the digital service provides individual U.S. investors live, real-time access to comprehensive, global financial information as the trading day moves across the world from East to West. In June, XM Satellite Radio

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