Tony Goncalves serves a dual role at WarnerMedia as CEO of Otter Media and overseeing the development of its direct-to-consumer streaming service, HBO Max. As the CEO of Otter Media, he runs a “digital-first, fan-centric media company,” which houses a portfolio of digital media brands including Fullscreen, Crunchyroll, VRV, Rooster Teeth, Gunpowder & Sky and Hello Sunshine. This Convergence Trailblazer began his career in consumer electronics.
Consumer Electronics → Media
Throughout his long, successful and varied career, one thing has been consistently clear to Tony Goncalves. “Consumers tend to win,” he says.
It is true today as Goncalves leads the development team of WarnerMedia’s direct-to-consumer service HBO Max in the ‘streaming wars’ shaping the future of video entertainment. It was also true when a younger Goncalves worked in consumer electronics for companies including Sharp Electronics and Samsung.
He has spent his working life at the cutting edge of connecting with customers. “When I started my career, consumer electronics were the tip of the spear in terms of how to get in front of consumers,” the CEO of Otter Media tells SRI. “If you think about the tip of the spear today, it is media – that’s how to reach consumers and connect with consumers.”
After working in product planning at Sharp Electronics, Goncalves transitioned to “a business development and strategy role” at Samsung. It was here he spotted the market opportunity that led to the creation of the electronics giant’s cable & satellite set top box business.
“I could have stayed in the consumer electronic space my entire career and built an incredibly successful portfolio,” he muses. But there was something within him that drove him to look for opportunities in adjacent sectors. “For me it’s building or fixing that is the driver,” he says. “You have really good operators that are comfortable and very motivated at operating a machine and driving efficiency. For me it’s always been either finding a problem and fixing it, or building a business. I have taken the opportunities generally on that basis.”
“A great leader has to be able to paint a vision very clearly: ‘This is where we are going and here’s why”
He moved to a succession of senior roles at satellite broadcasting company DirecTV and then to a senior strategic position at the media and telecoms conglomerate AT&T, before joining Otter Media in 2018. As CEO, he heads a company with a portfolio of services making specialist and niche content designed to “meet the consumer where they are”.
Goncalves has a well-defined leadership philosophy. “A great leader has to be able to paint a vision very clearly: ‘This is where we are going and here’s why.”’ The second component is to articulate and communicate that, and the third is to allocate resources to that path. That’s what great leaders do.”
Three mentors helped show him the way. David Olsen, his boss at DirecTV, taught him the difference between managing and leading. “Managers sit alongside their teams…leaders teach.” John Stankey, COO of AT&T and CEO of Warner Media, showed him how to transform a century-old business. He learned how to get the most out of his teams from the writing of former General Electric chairman and CEO John Welch.
When hiring, Goncalves is clear that skilled workers – like consumers – hold good cards: “We (companies) are actually the ones selling to talent. It’s not vice versa. There’s a lot of work for highly-skilled individuals and we as industries have had to adapt to the fact that we are selling our jobs to folks.” His “rule number one” in taking someone on is “you work hard and are…a nice individual”.
In a rapidly-evolving business environment, many of the next generation of young leaders will be recruited from other sectors, Goncalves believes. “You are essentially mining for skills not industry expertise,” he says. “You actually care about the unique skills that were built perhaps in another industry that have yet to be adapted to ours. We are looking for them in hospitality, in fintech, in transportation; because those were largely the industries that drove the direct to consumer transition. I think there’s going to be more cross-industry pollination.”