“You want to be engaged in what you do. Passion can be a hobby, but engagement ensures you’ll be excited about it, so you’ll work harder and network better.”
This month’s Stern Faculty Spotlight is Marc DeBevoise, who has had an illustrious career in digital media and technology. He received his MBA from Stern, where he specialized in Entertainment, Media and Technology. He then went on to build a career in digital media, first as an executive at CBS and ViacomCBS through the digital revolution and into the current age of direct-to-consumer streaming, and more recently as the CEO of CBS Interactive and Chief Digital Officer of ViacomCBS. Currently, he is the Vice Chair & President of Argus Capital Corp., a special purpose acquisition corporation (SPAC) dedicated to the broader tech-driven media landscape.
This fall, Professor DeBevoise returned to Stern to teach Digital Strategy. Many professors at Stern are giants in their fields, but it was particularly fascinating for me to learn the ins and outs of an industry from a leader that’s been instrumental in propelling the industry forward.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Thanks for meeting with me, Prof. Do all roads lead back to Stern? How did you end up back at Stern as an adjunct professor?
I had a great experience at Stern years ago, I met my wife there! I’ve spoken to various classes, particularly in the Entertainment, Media, and Technology specialization, over the years. A few years ago, I was the commencement speaker for the undergrads and I met the chair of the department. We began building out this course, and I happened to have free time for it this semester.
What is your favorite thing about teaching, given that you haven’t been a professor before?
I think teaching is cool in that you witness the engagement of students and have to think through the business in a different way. Outside of doing the business in my job, it forces me to codify my own thinking into cogent redistributable points. I do the business, but why? I have to share that in a more efficient way when teaching in a classroom. I also have to teach things that I don’t do in business, like Web 3.0. We haven’t done that at work yet.
Would you continue teaching here after this semester?
I’ll definitely continue teaching but not this spring – likely next fall.
What’s different about Stern now versus when you attended, whether it be the digital media landscape you work in or the university itself?
Well, the industry landscape has totally changed! When I was at Stern, we were the runt of the litter just getting started, and now digital has become the main value of the industry. It was really cool to be a part of that transformation. I think in terms of Stern, it’s more deeply diverse now than before. My Digital Strategy class has students from across disciplines, even though I expected it to be mostly geared toward MBAs – that shows you how the landscape has changed.
Looking back, what was the best investment you made on yourself at Stern that benefited you up to today, personally and professionally?
Besides meeting my wife, taking advantage of the classes of professors who were “doers” — those were very helpful in getting to know an industry and what I wanted to do. I also did lots of internships to learn about new industries, and overall built so many professional relationships. When I was at Stern, I was in the Tisch/Stern film program and I met Jeff Grossman there (Head of Content Strategy and Creative Partnerships at CBS) and all other kinds of incredible people.
Outside of teaching and your career, do you have any passion projects?
That’s hard because I mostly can’t disclose my passion projects. I’d say my children are the most important thing to me outside of work. I play a little guitar with them. But most of my passion projects are work-related, which goes to show how much I love my job. I can say something about working on a script with an Oscar-winning director.
My favorite feature of your class is that you bring in industry leaders/your friends to speak on their career and discuss the state of technology & media. What’s the best advice anyone has given you about, number one, career and, number two, life?
Effectively, the 80/20 rule. 80% of the job is what it is, and you give that your best, but you need to find the 20% of the role where you can actually make a difference. Also, take a long-term view of your career, but a short-term view of your role. Within 2-3 years, evaluate what you’re doing.
Favorite TV show or film?
The reboot of Star Trek. And Ted Lasso, it’s a drama dressed up with jokes. Succession is also good. They must have amazing consultants on there – the media industry is exactly what it portrays. But all the characters are so hateable.
Do you watch a lot of TV as part of your job?
I thought I was gonna be a filmmaker until I did the film program at Tisch/Stern. I was terrible in a class called Sight, Sound, Film 101. But I had a passion for some aspects of film and so I wanted to be in that industry in some capacity.
When realizing I wasn’t a true creative, I migrated from 80/20 to 70/30 in the film space. You can follow something you can be really engaged in, in some way, and find your space in that industry. The reason I use the word engaged is that you’ll be excited about it and you’ll work hard. Passion isn’t just your guitar hobby or your children or your Peloton, you need engagement so that you’ll network better and be inspired by the people in it.
Any last words?
Something I told the students during my undergraduate commencement speech was,’You don’t have to be like me to be good, you can be good and not be anything like me.’ So find what you’re engaged in, and diversify the kinds of people you know and can learn from.