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The Graduate: Jim Louderback

The Oppy is commemorating some prominent NYU Stern alumni with our ‘Graduate’ series. Each month, we’ll interview notable alum that have made an impact on their community and industry.

Jim Louderback is among the most respected figures in digital media with a 20-year history of leadership at the intersection of publishing, media and technology. 

He currently runs events business VidCon as an independent division of Viacom.  Jim  joined VidCon in 2014 as editorial director of the industry track, and took over as CEO in 2017.  In early 2018 he led the sale of VidCon to Viacom.  He is also a Venture Partner at seed investment firm Social Starts and recently did extensive consulting with a variety of top tech and media companies.

He previously built and sold online video network Revision3 to Discovery, was editor-in-chief of PC Magazine and founding content lead for cable network TechTV. Throughout his career, Jim has earned a reputation as a visionary who excels at leading startups, growth businesses and turnarounds. His most well-known role prior to VidCon was as CEO of Revision3, where he helped drive a 20x increase in viewers and a 12x increase in revenue beginning in 2007. In 2012, Jim sold Revision3 to Discovery Communications where he remained as General Manager, transforming the group into Discovery Digital Networks. Prior to Revision3, He was Senior Vice President and Chief Content Officer for Ziff Davis Media’s Consumer group and Editor in Chief of many of the publisher’s titles including PC Magazine.  He also helped launch cable network ZDTV and guide its transition to TechTV. Jim is a recognized thought leader and sought-after speaker who has participated in countless industry events including Collision, The Video Marketing Summit, Digital Leaders San Francisco, Reel Online Video Marketing Summit and more. He is based in San Francisco, CA.

Jim graduated with a BS degree in Mathematics from the University of Vermont and an MBA from NYU Stern School of Business.

How has your MBA helped you on your career journey?

First by providing fundamentals of all aspects of business administration – including finance, accounting, organization behavior, marketing and more. Learning the universal language of business was super important.

But over time I found that it was that critical way of thinking and analytical approach that has served me best over the long term.

What was your favorite professor/class at Stern and why?

It’s hard to pick one, but the opportunity to learn from the masters in a given field was what was most memorable and important to me long-term. But if I had to pick one I’d go with Dr. W Edwards Deming. He went to Japan after WWII and taught an entire country all about best practices for industrial engineering and his 14 key principles for management (TQM) – and was in many ways responsible for the Japanese economic revolution in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I got to learn from a legend. Favorite moment was when a Japanese TV team came to class to interview him. Here was this 6 foot plus mountain of a man bowing and interacting with an Asian team literally half his size.The respect and reverence that Japan held for Dr. Deming was incredible.

If there’s one thing you could change about your experience as an MBA, what would it be?

Better ways to network between peers and a better way to keep that community going.  After graduation it was as if we were suddenly cast adrift from our business education, which is a shame.That community should have been nurtured and grown, yet it was left to wither and die.

Did you do your MBA full or part-time? What was the most challenging part of that journey for you? Any tips for our students today?

I did it full time, but ended up working part time at Chase (now JP Morgan Chase) while going to school. NYU offers this unique combination of learning from world experts and then going to work at a world class business – and combining the two to great effect. It was challenging because the days and nights were long, but the end result was amazing – at least for me. My tips: first don’t hesitate to take advantage of classes and opportunities that aren’t on your “career path”. While I was at NYU getting my MBA, we had a relationship with Union Theological Seminary and I took a joint ethics class with UTS. That has been amazingly helpful to this day. I also took an intro to Public Relations from top execs at Hill and Knowlton – little knowing that I’d end up in a career in media where PR is such an important part. 

And second, take advantage of the city. Get an internship with a weird company or a big company and combine the real world with the academic world. No other school (except maybe Columbia and arguably Pace and Baruch) offer the opportunity NYU does for MBA students.

Many of our graduating MBAs are about to start recruitment. What do you think are the most important characteristics and qualities of top candidates in today’s job market?

Certainly work experience is good to highlight, but a diversity of experiences and a broad set of interests and educational choices are very important. Tunnel-vision in education and career may seem like the right path, but I think a well-rounded perspective is essential for job success. You have to be able to speak to all types of people in business, so knowing how to relate to the front-line workers, the back office execs and everyone in between is so important.

What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the media industry since the start of the pandemic and in this current economic climate?

Well, it’s hard to run a conference and festival business when we can’t travel and can’t gather in groups bigger than 5-10 people. That business essentially vaporized in 4 weeks in early 2020. But this was my third or fourth traditional to digital pivot (we moved VidCon entirely online for this year and first half next year to some early success), so at least I was ready for some of the challenges and pitfalls. 

On the economic side, it’s always difficult to manage in a downturn, but you have to take the long-term view – which we did. We’ve been rebuilding our business for success when we come out on the other side, rather than moaning and wailing and gnashing our teeth.  Focusing on the future and where you want to go, not bemoaning the spam sandwich that fate has served up is what got us through and is what world-class organizations like embrace.

How is that changing the job market in the tech space?

I took a class at NYU back in the eighties from one of the premier researchers on telecommuting. Boy was she ahead of her time! Now you can work from anywhere, but the challenges are how do you connect and collaborate in this forced distributed environment.The teams and organizations that get that right will have an unfair advantage in the years ahead.

What are your thoughts on current digital media trends? How do you think these are going to change after Covid?

The pace of technology change is accelerating. We’ve already reinvented every media created to date, but new innovations (5G, AI, battery advances, etc) will continue to drive new ways for technology and media to produce things we can’t even imagine today. New media types and new ways to connect are being rolled out daily. We will see new ways to connect over long distances as technology removes barriers. But in the end it will only make the times we can experience media together in the same space – and experience the community of togetherness that that fosters – even more valuable!

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