Forecast Is Positive for New COO of Weather Channel
- By Jon Reidel
Chris Walters never envisioned himself working for The Weather Channel following his 1996 graduation from UVM’s School of Business Administration, much less being hired as its chief operating officer earlier this year. But the experience he gained in strategy and operations over the course of his career made him a strong candidate to help the 24-hour, all-weather news outlet improve its already sunny forecast.
“I like to identify the biggest challenges facing an organization and then figuring out ways to overcome them,” says Walters, who oversees The Weather Channel’s technology, finance, legal, research and human resource teams. “I really enjoy the process of solving problems and helping companies deal with their most pressing issues. I’m fascinated by it and love the challenge.”
Walters’ latest endeavor is to rapidly expand The Weather Channel Companies domestically and internationally. This will require enhancing its position across media platforms that includes mobile applications that are already one of the top five most downloaded in the world on iPhones and Ipads. “Chris is a strategist with the vision and understanding of the media and digital industries and a track record in operating innovative media and technology businesses,” said David Kenny, chairman and CEO of The Weather Channel, adding that Walters will be critical to expanding into new markets.
“Everyone knows The Weather Channel,” says Walters, who worked in the corporate office of Bruegger’s Bagels while at UVM. “It has some pretty incredible digital assets and extraordinary growth potential in television, online, mobile and information services around the world. We also have the best forecasting capability, so it only makes sense to expand internationally. We’ve gone live with our app and website in 40-plus languages. When you’re participating in so many different growth segments it’s pretty exciting.”
Taking the business world by storm
Walters, who met his wife Kati Walters (Maroney) at UVM, was first exposed to solving business-related issues at his first job out of college as a marketing strategist for Hallmark Cards. He then returned to school to work on his master's degree in business administration at the University of Chicago.
“When consulting firms came to grad school and talked about how they focus on the most pressing problems across industries, I thought, ‘Wow, that sounds really appealing,'" he remembers. "'I can learn about many different businesses and functions and work on really interesting problems while working directly with senior management.’”
Recruited by consulting firm McKinsey & Company in New York, where he became partner, Walters advised media, entertainment and investment companies. One particularly intriguing project involved working with professional sports leagues to overcome the often contentious issue of revenue sharing, as well as the similarly challenging issue of media rights. Walters and his colleagues came up with a program based on a model that determined reasonable performance levels for each team given their market conditions.
In 2008, Walters went to work for Bloomberg, where he focused on the future growth of the company’s collection of media properties across television, online, mobile and syndication as head of news and multimedia strategy. In that role, he collaborated with the CEO of Multimedia to reset the strategy for the business, create multiple international partnerships including UTV, one of India’s leading media and entertainment companies, and acquired Businessweek.
“When I started, Bloomberg had a financial terminal business that is still one of the most successful businesses ever created and they also had this media business that was viewed primarily as a marketing vehicle,” Walters says. “We thought we should focus more on business results, because many companies are highly profitable in these types of media businesses. So we reset the strategy and improved the financial performance dramatically. We also went from never partnering or acquiring businesses to doing a variety of acquisitions around the globe to accelerate growth.”
Later, as COO of Bloomberg Industry Vertical Group, he led the acquisition of BNA, a major provider of legal information, and got a taste of building something from the ground up when he helped create Bloomberg Government in 2011. The start-up included hiring economists and financial analysts to help build what would become the most comprehensive collection of legislative, regulatory and spend tracking available, including every piece of legislation, regulation, government contract and request for proposals awarded in recent years and updated in real time available via a web interface, located on a virtual database.
“The federal government is the largest buyer of goods and services in the world, spends more money than anybody and employs extraordinary numbers of people,” says Walters. “What we heard was that the business community was constantly curious about what the government was doing and how it might impact their business. We thought there was an opportunity to create a comprehensive collection of news, data and analytics that tracked everything that the government did and translate it in a way that would explain if this action happened, here’s what the economic impact would be on business.”
His successful years at Bloomberg came to a close when the opportunity at The Weather Channel presented itself.
"I’ve had four jobs since I graduated from UVM and have enjoyed all of them," Walters says. "I wasn't looking to leave any of them, but all these really interesting opportunities kept coming up and my family (Kati, Alex, and Abigail) have been supportive of the moves required. Fortunately, they've all worked out really well."