Bill Abbott ’84
President & CEO of Crown Media Family Networks
“This is where being a major in English really comes in handy. I feel like I learned story, characters, and emotion and all the things that comprise great storytelling at Holy Cross.”
On March 29, 2019, Ciocca Center Student Intern Sarah Anderson ’20 interviewed Bill to learn about how he turned his English Major into a career in the entertainment industry. Bill is the President and CEO of Crown Media Family Networks.
What did you want to be when you grew up? Did you always know you wanted to work in the entertainment industry? No, not at all. I was an English major, with a lot of political science classes mixed in there. I was really focused more either on law school or teaching when I was at school. But, after college I felt like more school wasn’t really where I wanted to be my first year out. So, I was fortunate enough to get a job in the media world, loved it from the beginning, and decided that’s what I would focus on. Entertainment is not something I intended on, but the liberal arts education provided me with a great backdrop for really anything I wanted to do because it teaches you and gives you a good sense of how to communicate and critically think and write. All of those are crucial aspects to any job.
How did you decide to major in English? I love to read. I love to write. I loved 18th and 19th century literature. For me, that was definitely a passion along with many political science classes, which I love too. Majoring in English was a pretty easy decision and one that I am very much happy that I made.
Who or what inspired you to enter the business world? Well actually, my first job gave me a taste of media but wasn’t exactly what I had hoped. I liked the industry, but I didn’t like my first job. It was really my second job where I met people and did things that were much more impactful to my overall and long term career. As I moved to the research area of the business, it was really the nuts and bolts of the business that I learned that have been so beneficial to me now. That’s a unique kind of path to take, but it’s one that I was fortunate to have some people that I really admired that were smart and good at what they did who helped me understand different aspects of the business that are still important to the way I look at my job today.
In your interview with Kurt Manwaring from “from the desk,” you spoke about the growth of Crown Media in recent years as a response to Kurt’s question about the personal interaction with your employees. Can you describe more about your leadership style in this largely growing company? Leadership here is definitely collaborative and by consensus. I really believe that the environment we create is critical to our success and by the environment, I mean the culture of one that encourages people to learn, ask questions, and to respect each other and respect the people above and below them, most importantly below them. All of these things create an environment where people enjoy coming to work versus one that is full of fear and intimidation. That is definitely a big focus of mine, because I think it’s instrumental to our success along with our business strategy.
How do you manage the challenges of constant creativity innovation with producing so many new Hallmark movies each year? This is where being a major in English really comes in handy. I feel like I learned story, characters and emotion and all the things that comprise great storytelling at Holy Cross. My core background in this business, in the role as CEO, is not necessarily the creative side yet I lean on what I learned at Holy Cross every day. I manage or am involved with so much content: I read every script and I watch every movie. The volume is very heavy, but at the same time I remember my course load at Holy Cross and reading was also very, very heavy. The workload is not unfamiliar to me and it has been an enormously beneficial experience. I don’t think I could be doing this job nearly as well if I didn’t have that Holy Cross background in the English area.
What do you love most about what you do and as your role of President and CEO? The content is definitely one of the things I enjoy the most: getting involved with it and creating great characters. We have a movie coming up that you’ve got to mark on your calendar because I think it’s an example of one that we wish every movie turned out as well as this one did! It premieres two weeks from Saturday, it’s called “Bottled with Love” and it’s a really strong character development and I think it’s well acted and well written. I would point that out as an example of our content. The other piece that I enjoy most about my job is the people, and seeing people be successful whether they stay within our organization or whether they work here for a while and then move on. I enjoy mentoring and helping people be successful.
How do you balance all your responsibilities in regards to time management? That’s by far and away the biggest challenge and the hardest thing to do. There are not enough hours in the day! It’s being organized, prepared, having a game plan and not letting the day happen to you. Managing your day is essential and determining what’s most important and what are the things that only I can do that I can’t assign to other people. Those are critical to my success every day and to not let the day get ahead of me. It’s an overarching principle and I’m not nearly as successful at it as I’d like to be. Everybody can improve every day, no matter where you are or what level you’re at. I’m working on it, but it’s not easy.
As an alum of Holy Cross, and as a parent of current students at Holy Cross – what advice do you give to Holy Cross students aspiring to work in entertainment? I would give them the same advice I’d give anybody who’s graduating. Be prepared when you come to an interview. Know something about the company that you’re going in to interview with. Be on your game and be dressed for the job you want, not for the job that you may have. All details are really important to think about and be prepared for when you go in for the interview. Then, work hard, just outwork everybody and you’ll be successful.
What is your favorite memory from Holy Cross and your time spent on Mount St. James? I would have to say that it would be the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas where there would be final exams, but at the same time there would be something festive. We used to have a holiday banquet that was always every year during study week. Kimball would serve roast beef and everybody would get dressed up and go to this banquet. It was a very festive environment, a festive atmosphere and I miss it very much to this day. The camaraderie, the overall spirit of Holy Cross, the fact that people are there to help each other and not put each other down, the nature of the student body, are all areas that I think are second to none when it comes to campus life in the U.S.
Thanks for reading! Cassie
Cassie Gevry, Associate Director of Student Engagement
Ciocca Center for Business, Ethics, and Society