Insights From Washington Post Live ‘Executive Actions’ Event

CEOs of HBO, KPMG, Johnson Publishing, Siemens USA and MGM Resorts say diversity will drive the digital economy.

The diversity panel led by Washington Post Live Editor Lois Romano brought MGM Resorts Chairman and Chief Executive James Murren and Johnson Publishing Company Chief Executive Desiree Rogers to the stage of the Jack Morton Auditorium Friday.
April 27, 2015

Top CEOs from HBO Inc., KPMG-US, Johnson Publishing Company, MGM Resorts International and Siemens USA said in a series of interviews that launched a new partnership between George Washington University and The Washington Post that diversity—of employees, skills and products—will drive the success of the digital economy.

The CEOS were part of “Executive Actions: Steering Companies and Reimagining Industries,” a set of conversations that took place Friday at Jack Morton Auditorium on the eve of the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.

Fred Ryan, chief executive and publisher of The Washington Post, welcomed the high-powered quintet whose decisions have global impact.

Chief Executive and Publisher of The Washington Post Fred Ryan. 

“The choices they make not only affect their companies but also their bottom lines,” Mr. Ryan told an audience of journalists, business and government leaders and GW students.

GW School of Business Dean Linda Livingstone said that it was fitting that GW cosponsored the event to inform students—future leaders in business—where the digital economy is headed.

“I’d like to thank The Washington Post for partnering with George Washington University to put together what is certain to be an informative, inspiring and thought-provoking presentation,” Dr. Livingstone said.

GWSB Dean Linda Livingstone.

Transforming Television

HBO Chairman and Chief Executive Richard Plepler said that the success of HBO Now—a streaming service that allows users to access HBO on smart devices without a cable or satellite subscription—is proof that consumers want flexibility in where and how they consume content.

HBO Now was released with exclusive access for consumers with Apple products, reaching the 53 million homes with Apple devices, Mr. Plepler said. The service will be accessible on other platforms in about three months.

HBO is the network of “Game of Thrones”—“the most pirated and most popular show in the world”—and it has 127 million subscribers with earnings close to $2 billion, he said.

Mr. Plepler, who was interviewed by Cecilia Kang, a media, entertainment and technology reporter for The Washington Post, added that with 85 percent of viewers watching HBO’s Sunday night programming on non-premiere nights, it is clear that companies need to offer flexibility and bundles of services and products to compete in the digital economy.

He described HBO Now as a millennial missile. “It is a very appealing product for so-called ‘chord-cutters’ who cannot get or cannot afford” a cable or satellite service.

“We’ve faced competition from the beginning—22 years ago, it was unfathomable that a cable channel could compete with network TV,” Mr. Plepler said. “We’ve been appropriately evolutionary.”

He assured the audience that despite expanded distribution methods, HBO would remain a “content company” dedicated to unique storytelling.

“Whatever form of distribution we take, we are careful to create as much flexibility in our model as possible,” Mr. Plepler said. “We’ve grown more in 2013 than we have in the last 13 years and more in 2014 than in the last 30 years.”

HBO Chairman and Chief Executive Richard Plepler said that HBO now is a "millenial missile" that meets a growing demand for flexible consumption of content.  Pictured with (l) Cecilia Kang, a media, entertainment and technology reporter for The Washington Post.

Thriving in the Digital Economy

The “Internet of things” has revolutionized the speed and diversity of industry, allowing companies to produce customized products faster, according to Siemens USA President and Chief Executive Eric Spiegel.  

 As a global industry leader, the United States develops 70 percent of the world’s software, Mr. Spiegel said, but that means companies require entry level employees with higher-level skills in math, engineering and computer science.

KPMG International and KPMG-US Chairman and CEO John Veihmeyer agreed, saying that the top concern of CEOS—according to a survey last year of 400 of them—is that technology will render their firms’ products or services obsolete.

With such quick shifts in industries, companies want recent college graduates with a good attitude, a willingness to learn and experience in a work environment, said Mr. Veihmeyer, who along with Mr. Spiegel was interviewed by Karen Tumulty, a Washington Post national political correspondent.

 To supplement lack of training, Siemens has adopted the German model of apprenticeship and developed a three-year training program that allows high school graduates to work and attend school part-time before being hired at a plant, according to Mr. Spiegel.

Other workforce support initiatives include technology and funding donations for colleges and high schools. Siemens donated $30 million in software licenses to GW in March.

However, with only 10 to 15 percent of U.S. high schools teaching computer science, Mr. Spiegel said that the United States should refocus K-12 education on producing graduates who can thrive in the digital economy.

“This is how we are going to rebuild the American middle class,” Mr. Spiegel said. “The whole world is digital.”

KPMG-US Chairman and CEO John Veihmeyer and Siemens USA President and Chief Executive Eric Spiegel told  Karen Tumulty, a Washington Post national political correspondent, that recent graduates need more engineering, math and computer science skills. 

Diversity and the Bottom Line

MGM Resorts CEO and Chairman James Murren shared how his company instituted a top-down approach to diversity, ensuring a company-wide culture of inclusion by hiring candidates from varied backgrounds at all levels of the company.

“Diversity sounds good,” Mr. Murren said. “But where are you with managers, vice presidents and senior vice presidents?”

Johnson Publishing Company Chief Executive Desiree Rogers congratulated MGM Resorts efforts and approach, which includes candid interviews with employees about diversity and basing up to 50 percent of managers’ bonuses on the diversity of their hires.

MGM Resorts’ diversity program also ensures that women are paid equally to men and includes a partnership with the Red Cross called “Boots to Business,” that trains and hires veterans, said Mr. Murren. He and Ms. Rogers were interviewed by Lois Romano, editor of Washington Post Live.

Ms. Rogers said that diversity is also driver for innovation, citing the Johnson Publishing Company cosmetics line, Fair Cosmetics, which was born from the idea that women from all over the world should be able to find makeup that matches their skin tone. The beauty industry has been famously slow to adapt to multicultural identities, she said.

“It needs to be authentic—diversity has to be more than just words,” Ms. Rogers said. “It’s what you do.”