Phil Beuth is a gifted storyteller.
Though his "Ego Wall" is filled with photos of him alongside celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Paul McCartney, Bill Cosby, and Audrey Hepburn, "ego" had very little to do with Beuth's success. He was, and still is, one of those rare people who actually have a "magnetic personality."
In the words of television icon Regis Philbin, "People were attracted to him. People wanted to work with him. At that time, many tended to shy away from network executives, but his people wanted to hear his stories and his ideas."
Beuth's office wall reveals the remarkable tale of a man who rose to the heights of the media and entertainment industry as president of Good Morning America (1986-1997) while maintaining active involvement at the highest levels of ABC-TV management. In Beuth's words, "The most remarkable thing about my career is the people I got to work with. I was blessed with the best leadership in the business."
As a man who spent his entire 42-year career working for one company, Capital Cities Communications, it's not surprising his references relate almost exclusively to Cap Cities and not the more widely recognized ABC brand.
"Everything was an open book with Cap Cities. We understood that owning a TV station was not only a privilege but also public trust. Even Warren Buffett often stated that the balance sheet should include a line item for 'integrity.'"
Cap Cities may have been "the minnow that swallowed the whale" when it purchased ABC in 1986; however, Beuth's loyalty to his long-term associates is unwavering.
Though willing to accept credit for his best ideas, Beuth quickly defers to his mentor, Capital Cities CEO Tom Murphy, for establishing a timeless management philosophy: "If you hire the best people you can and leave them alone, you don't have to hire very many."
Philbin concurred: "Capital Cities had a way of producing executives who knew how to get the best out of people."
Born in Staten Island, N.Y., with mild cerebral palsy, Beuth was reared by a single mother. The family's lack of health insurance resulted in young Beuth having to straighten out his feet by tucking them under the radiator and doing sit-ups. Rudimentary, yes, but also a likely influence on a problem-solving philosophy based on taking control of the situation, using the resources available, and getting the job done.
Specifically, Beuth takes pride in a 1988 decision to develop a series of prime-time specials on AIDS, produced without the guarantee of advertiser funding to support the initiative. According to Jessica Stark, former colleague and current manager of Post Production at "Anderson Live," "Phil has been, and always will be, the great crusader."
Stark continues, "Phil operated on his wit s— which were considerable." In Philbin's words, "Phil Beuth was a great executive — always up and ready to hear new ideas."
However, Beuth's greatest lesson may still be the power of storytelling: Live a life that creates great stories to tell.
Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of professional-courtesy initiative, RediscoverCourtesy.org, and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications agency headquartered in Naples. He can be reached at Randy@mindzoo.com or 239-304-9611.