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Cable pioneer Abbe Raven is set to retire.
Her last day as chairman of A+E Networks will be Feb. 2. The news comes nearly a year after Raven’s protege, Nancy Dubuc, was elevated to CEO and Raven to chairman.
As Raven noted in her memo to the staff, she got her start at A+E nearly 33 years ago. The highly respected Queens, N.Y., native began as a production assistant with A&E precursor Daytime and Arts, and swiftly rose up the corporate ladder. In some three decades, the company went from a single network to a portfolio of lucrative channels — A&E, History, Lifetime and FYI, among them — that reaches 350 million homes in 180 territories around the world. Today, the company generates an estimated $3.8 billion in annual revenue.
Over the years, Raven has been recognized by publications including this one for rising to a level historically dominated by men, and building some of the most profitable cable networks on the dial in that process. Her hugely successful run has included a series of network rebrands — pre-Pawn Stars, History was best known for airing musty WWII documentaries — savvy dealmaking and a buzzy collection of programming led by Duck Dynasty.
The changing of the guard comes as the industry in which Raven has long played a key leadership role continues to evolve. Among the more recent challenges: unscripted programming, which dominates the A+E catalog, has taken a hit in the face of increased competition. Add to that changing viewer habits, and the importance of content ownership in an increasingly SVOD-heavy landscape.
Though Raven and her hand-picked successor have vastly different styles — Raven is the more reserved, measured counterpart to Dubuc’s big, often-risk-seeking personality — they have a deep bond and mutual respect for each other. In a late 2012 cover story in The Hollywood Reporter, Dubuc recalled how it was Raven who had told her early on that she could be a general manager one day, a goal Dubuc had given little thought to until that moment. She joked: “Once it was tapped, my ambition was a pain in the ass.”
Going forward, Raven, who was elected to the board of education nonprofit PENCIL in October, will look to add more board seats. As a consultant to the company, her vast knowledge of the cable business, to say nothing of her longtime relationships with the cable operators, will likely be tapped on occasion, too.
Read Raven’s memo to the staff:
33 years ago, I dreamed of breaking into the almost newborn cable business. By sheer good fortune, I saw an announcement in the NY Times heralding a promotional event for the launch of a brand new cable service called DAYTIME. With resume in hand, I went to the event at — of all places — the lingerie department at Macy’s — to meet the new network’s programming executives. I jumped at the chance and with an eagerness to do anything — to copy scripts — to answer phones — to get coffee — indeed, to do whatever I was asked to help in the launch. And what a ride it has been!
And now, after nearly 33 years at A+E Networks, my true and dear professional home — I wanted all of you to know first — that I have decided to retire on February 2 as its Chairman. My years here have been truly rewarding and exciting. I was fortunate to grow up and be mentored through the programming and production ranks, and then to develop as an executive. Together with many of you, I have had the privilege of helping to build what I believe to be the finest, most distinctive and most successful brands on the media landscape.
It is hard to believe that in 1984, A&E started out with one programming network and today we have a portfolio in over 350 million households and 180 territories around the world together with successful ancillary businesses. I remember being in the control room at the launch of A&E, Lifetime and History — like it was yesterday.
When I started out xeroxing scripts and answering phones as a few dollars an hour assistant in 1982 — I would never have imagined I would become a manager, director, and senior executive — not to mention the President and CEO and then Chairman of a major media company. That was never my goal. My goal was to find something I would love to do, something I could contribute to in my own way — something to be part of. I instantly became passionate about this business and this company. I love that we get to tell stories that touch people’s lives — stories that can make a difference — and that resonate with people all around the world. It has been the thrill of a lifetime watching this company grow, lead and thrive.
One of the universally recognized hallmarks of A+E Networks that has made me so proud has been our unique culture and our incredible people. It has been a testament to this organization that for over three decades we have consistently attracted and developed the finest talent in order to compete in the marketplace and to succeed. No one person, since birth of this company, did more to build this company, to create its culture and to guide and develop its people than my predecessor, mentor, and dear friend, Nick Davatzes. We all owe a great debt to Nick and the company continues to reflect his commitment, his leadership, his energy, and his principles. I am thrilled that Nancy, who has been my business partner, my successor and my dear friend, will be guiding you and this company into a future of great opportunities and challenges. Nancy is a superb leader and a true visionary. We also have the best and brightest management team in the business. I thank my Executive Assistant extraordinaire of ten years, Heather Graham, who has been my trusted and invaluable right hand. And, most important, A&E has the most talented, most dedicated employees in our industry — of this, I am most proud. I would like to thank both Nancy and the management team for their leadership, their friendship and their role in the company’s success. And I know they are going to keep growing this company to new heights.
This company and its people have been close to my heart for three decades. So many of you have become my extended family and good friends. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your commitment and for the contributions you make every day. We come together here from all walks of life to create our own brand of magic, and that magic has had, and will continue to have, a unique and lasting impact on popular culture.
I will miss seeing you here in the office on a daily basis. I will miss the daily excitement and energy that runs through our halls. It’s hard to say goodbye to the people and the company I love, the place I have been thinking about every day for most of my adult life. But it’s time. Time for me to explore new ideas, new interests, new callings — new chapters in my life. And as Chairman Emeritus of the company in the future, I look forward to serving the company when called upon as an ambassador and advisor.
And so, as I enter this next chapter, I envision a busy and fulfilling life, including continued involvement in the television industry and on corporate and non-profit boards and with issues I care about. And, of course, I also look forward to more and longer walks on the beach with my husband, and to having the time to really explore the world.
I will be rooting for each and every one of you all across this great company. Continue to make magic every day, be bold, make a difference, and have passion for and appreciate what you do. I wish each of you, and the great company that you serve, all the success in the world.
With great respect and affection,
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