Shari Redstone Talks Media Disruption in Rare Interview: "Complacency Is the Kiss of Death"

Eric Ogden

The THR Power 100 honoree, National Amusements president, vice chair of the Viacom and CBS boards, and daughter of Sumner reveals her investment philosophy and hopes for women in business: "We're moving in the right direction. But it's tougher than I thought it would be."

A version of this story first appeared in the Dec. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

It should come as a surprise to no one that at this litigious moment in an unprecedented drama, Shari Redstone is not prepared to address questions about her ailing 92-year-old father, Sumner, or the fate of the family's Viacom and CBS media empire. But Redstone, who not only is president of parent company National Amusements but also vice chair of both the Viacom and CBS boards, is willing to share her opinions about subjects ranging from the future of the media business to the cause of equal access to justice. Redstone is bullish on the future of the entertainment business. "If I'm not optimistic, why should I wake up in the morning?" she says in a Boston-accented delivery so rapid-fire that she actually apologizes for her speed, explaining she can't slow down or she'll lose her train of thought. Businesses that disrupt existing models are "not a threat but an opportunity," she adds. "I always say, complacency is the kiss of death."

With an eye to the digital future, Redstone in 2011 became co-founder and managing partner of Advancit Capital, an investment firm that focuses on tech startups involved in media, entertainment and technology — it has invested in more than 50 companies including Maker Studios. "I've always thought these new companies were going to provide tremendous opportunities for traditional media companies to create content for different platforms and different verticals," she says, pointing to virtual reality as an example of "a new vertical of content that didn't exist five years ago." She says she evaluates candidates for investment by asking, "Are you trying to solve a problem, and do you think you have the right solution?"

Viacom traces its origins to movie theaters, and Redstone still believes in that business. "There will always be a place for social movie-going," she says. "Nothing can compete with that." She long has been an advocate for an improved theatergoing experience that includes "great service, great cocktails and great programming" that isn't limited to films.

Redstone has an array of causes to which she devotes herself, including board memberships at Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and most recently, Our Time, an organization aimed at engaging young voters. On April 14 (her birthday), Redstone spoke on a panel at the White House Forum on Increasing Access to Justice. "We do business all over the world, and when we think about doing business in other countries, the first thing we think about is the rule of law," she said. "Is there political stability? Is there social stability, legal stability? Do we know we will get justice? And yet as leaders in the business community in the U.S., we often don't give that a second thought. We assume that it exists — and it doesn't." Businesses must fight for people to have equal access to justice, she warned, because the absence of the rule of law produces social dysfunction and "chaos."

Redstone, who lives in Boston and is a divorced mother of three grown children and grandmother of two, says her usually upbeat attitude is challenged when it comes to gender bias in the entertainment business. Her awareness of the issue is of long-standing. "I used to practice criminal law, and it was so sexist," she says. (Her law degree is from Boston University.) "We're moving in the right direction," she says. "But it's tougher than I thought it would be."

MY FIRST JOB IN HOLLYWOOD "My college roommate and I had summer internships, coincidentally at Paramount Studios, working on the sets of Love, American Style and Mannix."

WHAT PEOPLE DON'T KNOW ABOUT ME "I love to create a variety of signature martinis for our Cinema de Lux theaters and lounges."

I'M STILL STARSTRUCK BY "Tom Brady and the New England Patriots"

MY QUIRKIEST HABIT "I walk in hotel halls late at night while listening to audiobooks if I haven't yet achieved a minimum of 12,000 steps that day."

Other Power Squad honorees: Dana Walden, Bonnie Hammer, Elizabeth Banks, Cindy Holland, Kathleen Kennedy, Donna Langley, Nancy Dubuc, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Schumer, Megyn Kelly, Shonda Rhimes, Viola Davis, Kerry Washington, Ilene Chaiken, Taraji P. Henson, Barbara Broccoli