NAME: Jonathan Newcomb
DESCRIPTION: Courtly 21st century-thinking president and CEO of Simon & Schuster.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING: He understands the advantages of being part of the Viacom corporate family.
When Jonathan Newcomb was promoted last summer from his No. 2 slot to replace Dick Snyder as head of Simon & Schuster, one of his first orders was to shut down his predecessor’s private elevator to the CEO suite. The 49-year-old Newcomb, who served as an Army lieutenant in Vietnam, is not the private elevator type. While his counterparts live on Park Avenue, Central Park West or in the tony ‘burbs of Westchester, Newcomb resides in Brooklyn Heights with his wife and two sons.
Moreover, getting rid of the elevator was a symbolic gesture that said Newcomb’s tenure would be marked by a free flow of ideas – not only in the S& S elevators but between the divisions of parent Viacom’s empire, from Blockbuster to the MTV Networks to the Paramount studios.
That management style is what got Newcomb the nod for the top slot after Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone and his No. 2 Frank Biondi gave Snyder the pink slip. One of the key attractions of the Paramount deal they had recently completed was that it brought Simon & Schuster into the fold. And in Newcomb they had found another true believer in their faith that software is king.
“There’s so much opportunity,” says Newcomb. “We have an incredible amount of interaction with people at (Paramount), MTV and Nickelodeon. I talk to (Blockbuster CEO) Steve Berrard at least a couple of times a week.”
One of Newcomb’s prime mandates of the last year was to transform Simon & Schuster into an interactive media powerhouse. To no small degree, that has meant drawing on the resources of the Viacom family.
It also means drawing on his own family. Newcomb uses his teenage son’s forays with his pals on the Internet to illustrate how adept the next generation will be with new technology.
Technology coming out of the Paramount studios, whether it’s the latest special effects used in “Forrest Gump” or the next “Star Trek” theatrical release, may find its way onto Simon & Schuster’s CD-ROMs. Dialogue with Geraldine Laybourne, vice chairman of MTV Networks and president of Nickelodeon, leads to Simon & Schuster taking an active role in the coming launch of the Big Orange, Nick’s interactive educational channel.
Blockbuster’s Berrard joins the party to discuss how to retail the CD-ROMs Simon & Schuster will develop with Nick and Viacom Interactive in Blockbuster outlets.
One recent project was the launch last month of an MTV book imprint in consort with Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books. MTV Books plans to generate titles out of such MTV franchises as “The Real World” and “MTV Unplugged,” in addition to such self-help titles as “MTV’s Save Sex Guide.”
Newcomb, who oversees more than 400,000 active copyrights in his domain, admits to occasional clashes with other divisions over use of the properties. “Every time you talk about licensing fees with the studio or MTV, you’re not always going to agree right off the bat,” says Newcomb, who adds that a corporate mechanism is in place for Biondi to mediate any disputes between the various Viacom fiefdoms that reach a stalemate.