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How I Got Here: Brenda Freeman '87, MBA '91

About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty master's, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

Apr 16, 2014


Brenda Freeman

WHAT I DO: Chief Marketing Officer, Animation, Young Adults & Kids Media, Turner Broadcasting Inc. Manage a multimillion dollar budget and staff of 140 people; responsible for marketing, creative and strategy for Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Boomerang, seen in 100 million households.

EDUCATION: Majored in chemical engineering as an undergrad. Spent two years designing thermal insulation for rockets before returning to Maryland for MBA.

1992: Started as an analyst with Mobil Oil Corporation. After year and a half of “being a number-cruncher,” she was appointed to a “stretch role,” temporary management assignment, in a multi-million supply and distribution hub in New Jersey as a Supply Distribution General Manager. “I discovered it is a lot easier to manage MBA types than truckers and union workers who are much older than you, and have done it all and seen it all ”.

1997: Recruited to Pepsi as a Market Unit Manager Designate, part of a general management program training executives to run certain regions of the country; P&L responsibility. Got to work in each of the departments she’d be managing, and loved marketing so much that she left the general management track.

1999: Moved to Frito-Lay to manage the fat-free potato chip line; launched the WOW! line of products.

2000: Took a brand manager position with ABC Radio Network. Realized she loved the entertainment space.

2002: Moved to Viacom, where she held positions with VH1 and Nickelodeon.

2008: Became CMO for the animation and young adults division at Turner Broadcasting System.

Big break: “The job at Viacom wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for a mentor who arranged a meet and greet with the president of Viacom’s Entertainment Division, Herb Scannell. There were five TVs on in his office and I thought I have 30 seconds to make an impact. I knew I had to have a lot of passion and energy in my elevator pitch. How can a former rocket engineer help Viacom in the TV business? I pitched my left-brain right-brain connection and then left. I was halfway down the escalator when my phone rang, and it was his assistant. I went back up the escalator and I spent the rest of the day there, talking to his entire executive team.”

THE ENVIRONMENT: “From a digital perspective, how we market our content and products has changed so dramatically. We are giving people content wherever they want it -- they record it, VOD, stream it on a phone, download it on an iPad from Netflix.  In the new world of content on demand, great brand strategy is more important than ever before.  The very business model for how we make our money in the entertainment space is being challenged and we must evolve our strategies to meet the needs of the new competitive environment.

BIG CHALLENGE: Being called in to do turnaround. “At Cartoon Network, I had to quickly look under the hood; the structure was wrong and talent assessments needed to be made; there were the right people but sometimes in the wrong job. I had to do a lot of work creating the new leadership team with the right staff. You’re expected to have impact within 60-90 days when you’re sitting in a big chair. It can seem overwhelming, but the organization and your staff look to you, the leader, to be a source of strength, calm and confidence while managing through change.”

BIG TIP: “Make sure that you absolutely love what you do. You have to want this post more than anyone else. It’s about skill, but equally important, is your will.”

Brenda Freeman lives in Atlanta with her teenage children, Blair and Troy. Reconnect with Freeman through SmithConnector.