CFO Barbara Landes’ tips for managing people prove that working at PBS is just as educational as watching it.
By Nancy Flagg
Barbara Landes was destined for a career in finance. From the time she was eight years old and sitting at the dining room table with her father drawing up her first budget, she found that she had a natural affinity for numbers, analysis and problem-solving. But despite her aptitude, initially Landes did not consider applying these skills toward a career path.
Instead the budding learner entered college as an English major, then transitioned into Political Science. Her calling, however, was not to be denied. When she went to register for a law school entry exam, the Dean’s Office Secretary told Landes that she had missed the deadline and recommended that she take the Business School exam for practice. Landes did just that, and she earned a top score.
“Maybe this is something I should explore seriously,” Landes thought, and shortly thereafter she entered Wharton Graduate School to earn her MBA.
“Not everything in life is deliberate,” said Landes, who saw the value of being open to opportunity and flexible enough to change course.
Common Bonds: Love of Learning
In graduate school, Landes set her sights on a finance career and interviewed with banks in Chicago for Portfolio Analyst positions. She also learned that CBS in New York was recruiting 12 MBAs from top business schools for its first-ever middle management team, and decided to apply. Landes was offered jobs in both Chicago and New York. Although the Chicago finance opportunities sat squarely on her intended career route, she accepted the CBS job because it offered the greater learning opportunity. The CBS senior managers, Landes said, were genuinely interested in her success, allowing her the latitude to learn and to “make my mark.”
Since her CBS job, Landes has worked in roles spanning the media industry—TV stations and networks, radio, cable, corporate, production and digital media. When choosing organizations or assignments, she sought out those with the greatest learning potential.“I am motivated by learning,” Landes said. “Doing something new is an incentive.”
Landes’ career background and her focus on learning came together in a perfect match when she joined PBS in 2003, where she is Senior Vice President of Corporate Services, CFO and Treasurer.
“Education is at the heart of our mission,” Landes said. With more than 350 local public noncommercial TV stations, PBS reaches nearly 120 million people via television and nearly 29 million through online content. “We are a national platform and have a responsibility to serve all Americans,” Landes said.
Landes continues to satisfy her appetite for learning outside of her PBS role as well. She serves on the Advisory Council of the Gephardt Institute for Public Service at Washington University, and for many years acted as Director of Girls Inc. She managed the complex financial aspects of creating the Children’s Network LLC joint venture—also known as the Sprout cable channel, a venture formed with Comcast/NBCU, HIT entertainment and Sesame Workshop—and is its Audit Committee Chair. She also serves on the boards of Public Media Distribution, National Datacast Inc. and Update Logic Inc., and is interested in “finding the right match” for applying her extensive credentials on a public company board.
The media mogul has been recognized for her achievements and contributions by being named one of 2012’s Women in Numbers by the Alliance for Women in Media and being recognized as a Distinguished Alumna by her alma mater, Washington University in Saint Louis.
Managing Under the Golden Rule
Considering the various functions that Landes oversees at PBS, managing and delegating her team effectively is critical. When she was coming up the ranks, Landes said she encountered management styles that worked and ones that did not; she has shaped her style accordingly. As an overarching principle, Landes follows the Golden Rule by treating her team members with dignity and trust and being communicative and collaborative.
Successful delegation is at the core of Landes’ management approach. In her senior role, she needs to operate at a strategic level and thus must delegate duties. She hires smart people, gives them assignments to see where their strengths lie and then doles out more significant responsibilities. After discussing an assignment’s scope, resources, expectations and time frame with a staff member, she will “let them go, within reason.” “How you get the best from people,” Landes said, “is by supporting their activities from afar and giving them room to grow.”
Knowledge on the Horizon
Landes enjoys guiding young professionals and helping them develop. Recently she met with a group of PBS summer interns to get them thinking about their career paths, inviting them to keep in contact through LinkedIn. Most took her up on the offer.
Here she shares three tokens of wisdom for professionals who want to become a CFO.
- Find mentors. Landes did not have formal mentors, but at times she received helpful career advice from CBS executives. She also is part of an active network of senior female professionals in media who meet to share ideas and suggest resources.
- Do not prejudge an opportunity. Landes recommends thinking long term and looking at every individual opportunity as a chance to learn and grow. When she was working at CBS in a new strategic planning function, the CEO’s Office called with a few projects for her consideration. Although there was no pay raise or title accompanying them, Landes happily accepted the assignments and worked on them as her “night job.” She said it was a “great opportunity for a 24-year-old to see what life was like at the top of a media organization.” Within one year, her additional work led to a new job within the corporation.“So often, I hear, ‘Do I get a raise?’ or ‘What will be my title?’” Landes remarked. She advises that professionals look beyond the short term and see an opportunity as a chance to gain experience, meet people and earn credentials.
- Build an effective team. Landes suggests picking smart people, operating with trust and respect and giving team members opportunities to “grow and shine.” She believes that special assignments, particularly those that allow staffers to collaborate across the company, are beneficial to learning, morale, communications, relations and overall engagement.
In addition to her regular duties, Landes continues to identify and implement new projects at PBS—always looking for the promise of new knowledge on the horizon and applying it toward the betterment of the organization and its member stations.
Nancy Flagg is a freelance writer based in Sacramento, California.
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