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Meet WarnerMedia’s Michael Quigley: The Executive Making Deals in Television

Occupying spaces that merge corporate and Hollywood is no easy task for a Black man, especially when those spaces weren’t meant for you to enter. Still, Michael Quigley has been able to excel in the industry that helps us keep Black storytelling alive. For the last three years, Quigley has been the Executive Vice President, Content Acquisition and Strategy for WarnerMedia. The Stanford University alum continues to show the power in building a reputation that allows him to be one of the few decision-makers that represent our community, in offices that usually neglects us. The Quintessential Gentleman caught up with Quigley to discuss his early beginnings and rise through the ranks.

How did you come up in the business?

I got my start in the business working in finance and investment banking. The way that came about was through an organization called Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO), a New York-based organization that provides opportunities for underrepresented minorities in areas like investment banking, management consulting, and corporate law, among others.

I always start with that when I talk about my career because I am a testament to the importance of internship and mentorship and providing an opportunity for underrepresented groups in our industry and our business.

After starting my career in finance, I moved over to the media side of the business, where I did some strategy work for Time Warner. I then went and moved to the west coast, where I spent two years getting my MBA at Stanford, an incredible and important proving ground for me that gave me exposure to not just the media business, but more importantly, where technology was impacting the video business in many ways. What I learned at Stanford about the impact of technology informed much of what I have done for the last 30 years of my career.

And really, since Stanford, I've looked at my career through that lens and it guides my thinking about business models, consumers, content creators, monetization and distribution.

What are some of the challenges of your role currently?

For any senior executive and our media business, I think one of the first challenges we wrestle with is being in such a dynamic and interesting business, certainly at the time that we're in right now with so many changes going on.

I work and collaborate with many of my colleagues, counterparts, and partners across different parts of our business and different parts of our industry, contributing to complex decisions. The challenge there I find is simply this: How do I, in the end, use influence and use persuasion to get us to the best possible business outcome or best possible business decision. And in doing that, I have to think about the balance of interests, concerns and motivations across many different stakeholders so that we can, in the end, get to a decision that satisfies lots of different parties. Sounds easy when I say it; really giving a lot of thought to the numbers of people affected by these business decisions is an important part of what I do, and that makes the job both challenging and interesting.

Michael Quigley

With content acquisition, how do you make this a sustained effort and not just something for the moment?

Content acquisition starts with really thinking about this key question. What content do we need for our audiences and our consumers? That's going to ultimately attract, engage, satisfy and retain them on our networks or our direct-to-consumer platforms like HBO Max. That's really where we start in terms of our thinking, and the view that we take in, which is always long-term from a content acquisition standpoint. So, I'm sitting here today thinking about the content that we would want to acquire or license two to five years from now as opposed to thinking about the content that we're going to license today. I’m also thinking a lot about the audiences that we're going to have two to five years from now, and what's going to be appealing and attractive to those audiences. It's always going to be important for us to maintain that long-term view so that the impact we have will be sustained over the long-term and not just be short-term in terms of its impact on our business.

With iconic shows such as "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," "Chappelle's Show," "Martin," and "Family Matters," to name a few, talk about the role you played in amplifying Black Voices on HBO Max, and the importance of keeping these shows fresh in the viewer's mind?

When we were preparing to launch HBO Max in May of 2020, I saw that an opportunity for us to be able to have some of the great franchises from within the WarnerMedia family -- like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Martin and The Jamie Foxx Show and so many others that we have made over the course of the years. I saw an opportunity for us to be able to bring some of these series that have been defining for a generation of viewers—selfishly defining for a generation of viewers like myself, who remember in the '90s and 2000s when so many of these Black shows made their way to air on broadcast television for the first time.

It's been an opportunity to bring a great collection of those shows to our HBO Max platform, so we have really made a concerted effort strategically to systematically go about licensing many of those shows over the course of the last years. Beyond ‘90s and ‘00s shows, which also include In the House and Eve, we've also tapped into some more contemporary recent shows as well like David Makes Man, and third-party acquisitions Key and Peele and The Boondocks.

To me, the exciting thing is not only those shows defining for certain generations of viewers, but they also just again reflect the diversity and richness of storytelling, which I think is so fantastic. That's really something we have been focused on over the course of the last couple of years and we will continue to maintain that focus on the HBO Max side.

Being at WarnerMedia for over ten years, I'm sure you've occupied spaces where you didn't see others who looked like you. Can you talk about the importance of remaining authentically yourself in corporate America?

I would start out by saying you've got to be authentically yourself because if not, who else are you going to be? I really think it's important, and I appreciate that I work at a company that allows me to bring my full authentic self to the workplace and into the work that I do every single day.

Our success as a company hinge on our ability to create an environment in which, not just me but my colleagues and my counterparts, feel they can do exactly that -- be their full, free authentic selves in the workplace every single day.

Certainly, I've been in situations where I have been the only African American, the only Black man in a meeting or conference room, or in a room, and in that setting, it's my responsibility to represent my point of view and my perspective so that we make the best possible decision that we can for our business. And in doing that, sometimes it means for some issues that we deal with, I've got to make sure that in that room, if there is a unique perspective that as a Black American I've got, it's going to be important to what we're trying to do so that we're making the best decisions that we can. My colleagues make me feel like that's not only welcome, but it's also necessary and important for us to do to get to the best decision.

So, I would encourage and urge those who are younger in their careers, because it's always a challenge feels like when you're younger in your career, to have the courage and have the boldness to be truly authentically yourself. In the end, you're going to feel better about yourself and the work that you do. But also, in the end, the company, the organization, the team will be better for you, having brought yourself authentically to the workplace every single day.

How did you use your power to be a vessel for others to come after you?

From the time I was in investment banking to Time Warner and now WarnerMedia, there have been some important mentors and sponsors - who have gone out of their way to give guidance, advice and direction that I needed to make good decisions about my career journey.

Not only that, and this is where sponsorship becomes key, they've also been important voices and advocates for me in rooms and in settings where I was not -- to get me access to projects or to give me exposure to executives or give me opportunities from a standpoint that otherwise I may not have had.

Because of that, it's really important for me to serve in that way for others as well. For years, I have been both a formal and informal mentor within our industry and my company to other young executives, those of color and women, and executives from across our company. In addition, I have led internal employee resource groups focused on providing opportunities for Black employees to come together to network, talk about their careers, and tap into opportunities. I think especially now, given the time that I worked in this company, in this industry, I have realized that that's an important aspect of my legacy. It's not just the work or, the projects or the deals that I've done, but it's about the people who I've been able to hire and mentor, develop and groom who will ultimately be the leaders for our business and our industry over the course of the next several years and decades.

What do you hope to see over the next two to four years that maximize the commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion? How will you know you moved the needle?

When it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion, over the next two to four years, what I'm most excited about, and what I'm seeing today that I think is really special about this next phase of content creation, is the increasing number of diverse creators who are telling a broader array of stories than we have ever seen before.

We've really moved beyond the place of Black filmmakers making Black films, or women filmmakers telling women stories. We have moved instead to a place where a broad, diverse array of storytellers are able to tell their stories across all phases and aspects of their life. Whether kids’ stories, whether the teenage coming of age, whether its young adults trying to find their way in the world, where it's families coming together, where it's people finding their first love, people finding their first job, people dealing with loss and grief -- just the broad array and the life spectrum that we're seeing in terms of storytelling is really exciting as well as that it’s happening across all genres. I think that that rich array and a broad palette of diverse storytelling is really going to show itself in the next two to four years in terms of my work and the work that my team does.

I think about the impact of what we do around what our audience is watching, but I also look at that impact in much smaller terms. Do I see my daughters turning on our networks or turning to HBO Max and saying, ‘I see my story reflected on screen?’ Do I see my friends, my neighbors saying, ‘I see my stories reflected on-screen?’ When I go speak at events, and someone comes up to me and says, ‘you know I've never seen my story reflected on-screen, and you guys have this movie on HBO Max that movie tells the story of my life,’ well then, I know we're making the impact we want to see.

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