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Episode 27: The Transforming Role of Finance Leaders in Media and Entertainment

Lori Locke Lori Locke

Exec VP & Chief Accounting Officer

Warner Bros. Discovery

Madhurima Gupta Madhurima Gupta

Senior Product Marketing Manager

HighRadius

Available on

Synopsis:

In this episode, we talk to Lori Locke, Executive VP, and Chief Accounting Officer, Warner Bros. Discovery. Lori talks about the state of receivables in the media and entertainment industry and how the role of finance leaders in the media and entertainment industry has changed post-pandemic.

Transcript:

Madhurima Gupta:
Welcome to the mid-market CFO circle podcast powered by HighRadius, I’m Madhurima Gupta, your host. And today I have with me a very special guest. And before I go on and introduce the guest to all of you, I wanna talk a little bit about the topic of our podcast today. So we are gonna talk about how the roles of finance leaders have been transforming, changing in media and entertainment industry. And given that this industry is really complex and fluid it is really important to stay at the top of the game for every individual at such companies and finance leaders are not different. The internet digital technology have enabled new creative possibilities, economies of scale, and entirely new ways to consume media and the pace at which the change has been has it has actually been relentless. So this shift, these shifts are wise six out of 10 CFO reports that the demand of their role have increased since the onset of the pandemic making real-time forecasting and predictive analytics more important today. And even though, and even more a necessity. So on that particular pre notion, I’d like to go ahead and introduce Lori. Lori has over 30 years of experience in corporate, in public accounting that spans across big four public accounting firms, the securities and the exchange commission and other fortune 500 companies in media and technology and hospitality industries. She joined discovery in June, 2019 discovery is where Lori is currently working as chief accounting, officer Lori. You have decades of experience across multiple industries and you’ve spent significant part of the last decade working in media and entertainment industry. Can you tell us a little bit more about your journey?

Lori Locke:
Yes. I started I went to Penn State and then I started in public accounting at Deloitte. And I went to the securities and exchange commission, which was a great training ground for complex transactions. And then I went to AOL and AOL was acquired by Time Warner. So it’s kind of like a coming home with the acquisition of Warner media. Cuz I worked there for 10 years and that was such an exciting time with the growth of the internet essentially at that point in time. And obviously having being combined with Time Warner and all their various types of media was very interesting. Now since that time I left there in 2009 there’s been a significant changes in the media industry as we’ve all seen. I did a couple stints in technology and hospitality working at Hilton and then I found my way back to media with Ginette. And I worked there for five years Ginette split into two entities a spinoff and it was that was the newspaper industry, which has gone significant changes as well. So that was very interesting. And then when I came to discovery we have been going through significant changes with the internet and streaming, etc. So it’s media is just exciting. But one thing we all know is that consumption of, you know, materials, media news entertainment is never gonna die. So it’s just a matter of how it’s being consumed and what are the different trends. And then how, from my perspective is how do you account for it and how do you think about that and help the business you know, with all the numbers and the data that they need to make the appropriate decisions they need to make. So it’s always a very exciting time. There’s been a lot of consolidation in the media industry and that creates a lot of interesting challenges as well as interesting work ahead. So just fascinating and I’m blessed to have been working in it for so long.

Madhurima Gupta:
Absolutely. And how are you preparing for the technology shifts that are happening in the entertainment industry and how are you dealing with the new merger of Warner media and discovery?

Lori Locke:
We’ll take one first dealing with the new Warner merger. It’s new, we merged April eight. So it’s brand new. We’re working very hard on it, bringing the companies together quickly. I just would say that the, everybody is full force on learning. It’s imagine it’s just very rapid in how we’re bringing everything together, but doing it very thoughtfully is what I would say. There’s a lot of things to think about and how you integrate and merge. I’m more focused on back office clearly. And thinking through that, the technology that we want to use going forward and how that best supports the business, but you know, all around the company, everybody is focused on, you know, what, how both companies have done things in the past, but really what we want to be in the future and how we bring these great brands together to create the best product for our consumers. And it’s quite fascinating to listen to the conversations and that, just that creativity that goes with it in terms of systems and technology we continue to evolve with that and they become very important. I mean, with the pandemic and everything, it became even more critical as to how much can we do with it become paperless really. And we really were very successful at that. We immediately moved into the paperless world. A couple of people did ask me for printers, but I’m not really even sure they’re using printers anywhere. We were fortunate to have moved on to Google at the time. And a lot of our were able to even communicate better for Google. I’m not sure I love Google email, but I mean, I’ve adapted to it, but there’s other products within Google that are wonderful and that you can share spreadsheets and each can input at the same time or do other documents that make life a lot easier. But in the overall technology, I think it’s really important to look at all your systems and what that landscape is and figure out how to become more and more integrated and efficient. And when I say that in legacy discovery, we’re an SAP shop and we were 98% on one instance of SAP. Now with the merger, they have several ER legacy worn in media has several legacy ERP systems. And now, you know, our future is how do we combine all that? And that really creates the efficiencies that you wanna get to have the numbers flow in the most efficient manner and how your backend processes work in the most efficient manner. Because what we really wanna be able to do is take that data and quickly provide it to our business, to analyze it and figure out how we can make the best decisions for the company. So we are constantly looking at ways to figure out how to become more automated and we’re more nimble. And how do we bring that data out of the system, look at it analytically so we can make the best decisions for the company.

Madhurima Gupta:
And what is the top priority for you for the rest of this year in order to automate the functions and enhance efficiency of operations?

Lori Locke:
Well, when you have a merger such as ours, that is so large we are, we have, we have embarked on that long journey. So it is a priority for the rest of the year, but let me emphasize is the long journey to align all those systems and integrate and go into one system. And it will, it’s a huge project a very thoughtful plan that embarks on that. And how do you take various parts of that plan and move certain things quicker than other parts. And that’s referring to the ERP systems, but there’s also a broader perspective of all the other systems that integrate or how it keeps the business running. And we need to look at all systems and go, this is the path forward. And the way we, you know, which system do we wanna land on so that we don’t have all these disparate systems. So systems are very much a top priority for the end of the year, but it’s also a top priority for our journey over the next several years. I would also say just integrating and bringing teams together is critical and creating that corporate culture of one team is critical in any merger. And that takes a lot of work as well because you know, in order to do that effectively, I think, think you need to learn the teams and really, really spend time with the teams in order to bring that culture together and set that tone. And it really takes the leaders all the way down from your CEO to every leader to bring the teams together and really feel like you’re operating as one team. And so that’s a really a high priority for me because I think the more that we communicate with our teams and, you know, communication’s always key. The more that we can help bring that culture together and how we work together and what our priorities are and what our corporate values are, which is very critical and important.

Madhurima Gupta:
And Lori, you joined discovery in 2019 and you know, right after that pandemic hit. So how has your role’s expectations changed before and post-pandemic? I mean, I’m not quite sure if your post-pandemic yet, but in the sense that if we are then how are these how has your role changed?

Lori Locke:
Well, I would say that we adapted really well to the pandemic and working remotely at the time, but, you know, ultimately it is a big shift for your team. And how do you communicate, how do you make those communications effective? And it’s sort of just coming back into the office and making sure that you make that time purposeful and effective as well. So before the pandemic, everybody was coming to the office every day and, you know, it’s the way corporate America worked for years and years and years, right. It, and if we think back on the pandemic, it always happened like overnight and all of a sudden companies made the decision and you weren’t coming back to the office on Monday, we really did quickly adapt. We just we started communicating all the way down from our CEO, everybody down created more communications, which actually, and we were, we were zoom shop and zoom was wonderful, cuz you could see everybody’s faces on zoom. And I think actually in some ways it brought us closer together, but it also gave us the confidence that we can work a little differently in the future. So once you come out of that pandemic and I, as you said, we’re maybe not quite out of it completely, but we are back at work. Right? I do think, and I believe very strongly that it’s really important to have people in the office and have that connection that face to face connection to have those chest by, you know, in the kitchen or, or just have those drive-bys so that you can develop your team members in that corporate culture even more, but we all have to adjust to what three days in the office means in two days at home, what does hybrid mean? Because your whole team isn’t gonna be in the office necessarily on the same day or your other teams that you develop relationships with are not gonna be in the office on the same day. So I do think it requires maybe a little bit more planning to be purposeful. And because I think that time is still valuable, you know, when you’re in person and you have those connections and really make those valuable times, I also think the ability to work remotely and have this more flexibility is a gift. And maybe from having worked so many years in the office every single day, I just think it’s a tough, and I think that the fact that companies around the world can make this work is amazing. And it gives as an individual who wants work life balance. It gives us that ability to maybe better manage everything and our personal lives and our work life. And also keep those creative juices flowing in a way that really at the end of the day is gonna help everyone. So I think it’s pretty incredible that the world and I really do say the world globally, we’ve adapted to this hybrid work environment.

Madhurima Gupta:
And how are your teams taking return to office policies? I mean, are they able to adjust well or is it again a change like it was when we started working from home?

Lori Locke:
Well, change is always a change, right? you know, whenever you manage a team change is takes time. That’s all I’ll say. I think you have to lead a team for change and encourage them along the way. So we get, we as people get adjusted to how we work and then when change happens, it makes us uneasy. It’s just human nature. It makes you uneasy as leaders, we have to help encourage and really encourage them that the change is fine. And it’s actually better for you. You know, I think the pandemic and giving companies confidence that people can get their work done anywhere was just huge. And that was a game changer and companies will never go back to thinking they can’t get their work done anywhere, but are we better as a hybrid where you’re in the office, say three, two or three days a week and you’re working at home. And I think that it is better, but having people coming back in the office is a change for them. They were used to their lifestyles for what, two years, and now they have to go, oh, I got a plan to that drive to the office. I’ve got a plan for the drive home, gotta figure out how I used to do dinner when I wasn’t at home, like during the day. And you know, there’s just so many things you have to think about. and that challenges, a human being a challenges is all of us to figure out how we change. But once you change, you adapt. And I just see I see people in the office and they’re really, really happy to see each other. Totally.

Madhurima Gupta:
And I totally agree with that. It’s just so good to sit in the same bay and speak with your colleagues in, you know, not having those many meetings anymore, honestly, because otherwise every watercolor conversation probably also becomes a meeting on your calendar.

Lori Locke:
Yeah. So it’s incredible that as you said as leaders, you have to lead the team free change, you have to encourage them and say that one-on-one connection is truly important to your development as a professional. So embrace that. And I go back and just take the step back and go, you know, let’s be purposeful. Let’s really think about that time in the office, you know, try to connect with your colleagues and go, okay, which days are you going in? Let’s try to do it together so that it does become more meaningful.

Madhurima Gupta:
So Lori I wanna quote a report here, which is by EY that talks about how media and entertainment executes are building resilient businesses and reframing the futures by focusing on key areas. And these key areas as for that report is simplification and streamlining operations and functions in awaiting business models, protecting and securing enterprises and reimagining the future of work. Right? So we have discussed all the points that, you know, match with the report and on, on our conversation so far. So how do you think adversity is going to reinvent media and entertainment industry?

Lori Locke:
The media and entertainment industry is going to continue to evolve. I, you know, there’s been a lot of consolidation. There could be more consolidation in future. We know that the streaming has become huge in how people consume data, whether it’s in any part of media has changed over the years and media companies adapt to that. And with that we adapt internally as well. You know, we adapt with our own technology and where we invest resources in how to best able to create media in the right frame and manner for our consumers to consume that media. But we also work in the back end to determine what those metrics are and how to evaluate it. And that’s very important with the whole streaming, their new metrics and you work across your industry and look at the metrics your peers use and you evaluate it too, and figure that you think through those and it it’s critical. And the decisions you make on your business from an accounting perspective, you know, my job is really to get my systems and my people, you know, anytime you make changes in accounting, it’s always about people, processes, and systems and getting those all aligned so that we can be more efficient and nimble and provide data more quickly. You know, so that data accurately and quickly, you know, everything’s about accuracy and timeliness, so that that data can be used in a way that helps make decisions timely too. But it’s also, you know, you can have data, data, data, data, but you gotta be able to aggregate the data in a way that is useful and meaningful. And that’s really critical as well. But, you know, when I think about like my REM, it really is to get these systems and these processes more and more efficient and even possibly do those in locations where it can even be with less costs so that we can aggregate that data and really be using our talent, the great talent that we have in our workforce to analyze it and help make us make the best decisions possible. And I, as I said, media is an amazing industry and, you know, our brands are just incredible and you know, it, and getting that, figuring out, you know, what media people really want and getting them to, and getting that, I mean, or what brands and content people want and getting that out to them in a quality manner is just an amazing opportunity for us.

Madhurima Gupta:
And how has, I mean, in general, pandemic has given streaming companies an opportunity to increase their subscribers, the monthly active users, right. So how has it been for you and what are the measures that you’re taking to, you know, to cater to the changes that are coming now? Because there are people going to, who are gonna return to office. There is recession inflation’s already there. So what steps are you taking to cater and you know, overcome these challenges?

Lori Locke:
Yeah, well, we stay on top of all of our trends and we evaluate it to see how the media’s being consumed. So change going back to the office, it could impact how media is being consumed, but once again when you’re on streaming, you can stream on your phone and maybe you can watch, you can watch that show. You wanted to watch while you’re writing the Metro into the office. Right. you can listen to many things in the car as well. So, you know, I, one thing I always remember when I’m through the years, I remember rushing home because I wanted to see a TV show at the time. I think it was 9 0 2 1. Oh. And it was only on like one night, a week eight o’clock, you know, today you don’t have to do that right. In that pretty amazing. I mean, you, you just know, okay. I worked at this hour and I get to watch it here, so I’m not really sure how going back to the office is gonna hurt the media industry. I know, I don’t really see it because I just think you watch it at a different time. You know, sometimes for me now I’ll be putting on, I love HDTV one of our brands and I’ll be watching the shows and I have two screens and I’ll just put on HGTV in the evening while I’m sort of when I’m going for and reviewing some things and I have it on the background. And then I pause every once in a while there’s certain parts of each show I love. And then I’ll, I’ll just stop working and watch it. But, you know, you just, I think you have more flexibility in how you consume. So I think that’s incredible. So I don’t know me personally, I don’t plan to give anything up. Just cause, but anyways you know, I do think though with the possible recession coming and with inflation that impacts everything and there is a concern out there, well, consumers make choices which streaming they want to have. Right. And will that impact, you know, what they pay, right? Because as you have less consumable income, cuz we’re paying more, gosh, just filling up my car the other day was kind of shocking. But as you pay more for gas and food, obviously there’s less to spend other places we’re gonna have to watch that. But are people gonna pay for their streaming, which I think’s actually a great bargain to be quite Frank? Or are they gonna go to the movies less or are they gonna give up something else? I don’t, you know, I don’t know, but I also think it’s very expensive to go to a basketball game, a baseball game. I was looking at all these trends of over the years mm-hmm and how much more expensive it is. I think taking vacations right now is more expensive. Just getting there, the playing costs are up. So it will be interesting to see how consumers react in the recession, but I could see a strong need for for keeping a streaming service because it, to me it’s an inexpensive way to have entertainment.

Madhurima Gupta:
I actually do agree with that personally as well. Right. So you know, we did slightly talk about you know, how it, how important it is to make the right kind of investment to manage your data and use it you know, to do the right kind of analytics and then leverage it for making the right kind of decisions. So according to you, how important it is to have real-time forecasting, predictive analytics, use of AI capabilities to accelerate the intelligence at CFO’s office.

Lori Locke:
Yeah. I would say that it’s interesting out there, it takes time to get to where you wanna be in technology. And once again, I do believe that more predictive forecasting is better and you know, our teams are pretty, our finance teams are pretty amazing at being able to predict and forecast, especially cash flow and you know, our metrics. They’re actually pretty incredible at that. You know, we can all continue to get better with our software capabilities and what, and enhancements, I will say. You know, it’s interesting when you implement new tools, you know, it’s all about getting, determining what your metrics are, but really those requirement building and getting that right so that it becomes effective and you get things pretty timely. I think it’s all pretty amazing, but it’s a lot of work. I will tell anyone to get it right because the requirements are critical. And I’ll even go back to robotics to a degree you can set up robotics and get things more efficient, but they have to be so precise on the requirements that if anything changes, then every something gets off, which doesn’t mean you don’t do it. You of course should still do it. But you know, when you embrace on these things and it’s really important to embrace ’em cuz technology is amazing. You just really have to go into it with the knowledge that you have to do it in a granular fashion and really focus on what those requirements are so that you can build it so that the product is good and you can rely on it. And that’s really important. I can’t emphasize that enough. Don’t take shortcuts on this stuff really work on it to make it right because the end results are pretty amazing when you do spend the time to get it done right up front. but then you also have to have the people and tools when things, you know, change or, you know, something changes along the way that you can update those requirements or update code or whatever you need to do along the way so that the end result the numbers are good and you can rely on them. Technology’s amazing. I can’t wait for the day that we have real time, everything. Everything is like every day you can see what numbers are. So , I mean, that’s such a future all the way, a long time for now, but it wouldn’t be really cool if you could have daily closes in a way that are automated. Not that require people to do it, but that’s my dreamland.

Madhurima Gupta:
Perfect. So thank you for sharing your opinions on CFO circle podcast today really appreciate your time, Lori. And I hope that the, I mean yours, I help you streamline processes and systems at Warner bros. and discovery, my best wishes for you and for our listeners out there. I hope this was an interesting conversation that you enjoyed with Lori. Please feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn. And if you wanna go ahead and look at more episodes by CFO circle podcasts, check out www.highradius.com/radiusone/cfocircle. Have a great rest of your day ahead and thank you, Lori. Once again for being on the show.

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