Mark Burnett: Army Experience Shaped TV Producer’s Leadership Style

Burnett: 'When you’re in the Army, nobody wants to hear your complaints about how you can’t make the mission work.'

As a young man in the British Army, Mark Burnett learned a lot about leadership by training with a career U.S. Army officer from Texas named William “Buck” Kernan.

Observing Kernan as he prepared Burnett’s parachute regiment for battle in the Falkland Islands taught the future TV titan what it takes to lead a band of brothers and sisters — whether armed with guns or cameras.

“I learned from him that you always, always make sure you explain the mission to the lower ranks,” Burnett says. “That’s different than the British Army way, where the higher ranks would talk to each other and the message would trickle down. I always talk to everyone on my shows, and I always take questions. Buck took questions from anyone.”

Gen. Kernan, who went on to be named Supreme Allied Commander in Europe in 2000, kept in touch with Burnett over the years. The commander, now retired, is suitably impressed with his one-time charge.

Says Burnett: “More than anyone, he taught me how to do more with less, how to deal with deadlines, how to be mission-focused. When you’re in the Army, nobody wants to hear your complaints about how you can’t make the mission work. It’s the same in television.”

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