2020 PEN America Corporate Honoree: Frank A. Bennack, Jr.
Frank A. Bennack, Jr., is executive vice chairman of Hearst, one of the nation’s largest private companies engaged in a broad range of publishing, broadcasting, cable networking, and diversified media and information activities. He is also chairman of the company’s executive committee, a director of Hearst, and a trustee of the Hearst Family Trust, established under the will of William Randolph Hearst. In addition, he sits on a number of corporate committees and the Hearst Foundations board, where he has served for more than 25 years.
Bennack served as Hearst’s CEO for more than 28 years. He directed the company through an unprecedented period of growth from when he began his first tenure as CEO in 1979 through June 2013, when he stepped down—increasing revenues 14 times and growing earnings more than 30 times, through investments, acquisitions and startups. Today, Hearst comprises some 360-plus businesses and 20,000 employees.
Under his leadership, the company launched three leading cable networks with its partner ABC (now the Walt Disney Company), A&E, HISTORY and Lifetime and invested in the ESPN family of networks, now in 190 countries and territories. On Bennack’s watch, Hearst marched toward diversification and global expansion, including its nearly $1 billion acquisition in 2011 of Lagardère’s 100 international titles outside of France, its purchase of healthcare information leader MCG and ownership of global ratings agency Fitch Group. Bennack was also instrumental in the decision to create what today is Hearst Television, Inc., one of the nation’s largest non-network-owned television station groups, which operates 33 television stations. During his tenure, Hearst launched such magazines as Country Living, Food Network Magazine, HGTV Magazine, Marie Claire and O, The Oprah Magazine.
Bennack’s operating talent and ability to envision and oversee transformation extend beyond his role at Hearst. His influence on corporate boards of directors—many lasting decades—has impacted the worlds of finance, at J.P. Morgan Chase and its predecessor companies Chemical Bank, Manufacturers Hanover and Chase; retail, as an outside director of Allied Stores, which became the modern-day Federated/Macy’s Inc. and was the parent company of Brooks Brothers, Jordan Marsh, Stern’s and Le Bon Marché; and pharmaceuticals, as a director of Wyeth, formerly American Home Products, which was acquired by Pfizer in 2009.
Bennack is currently a director of Ralph Lauren Corporation. He is chairman of Hearst Magazines UK, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hearst. Bennack is also a governor and former chairman of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and its Healthcare System, a managing director of the Metropolitan Opera of New York, chairman emeritus of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and chairman of the Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Television & Radio). He was the 1992–93 chairman of the Newspaper Association of America (formerly the American Newspaper Publishers Association).
Prior to his first stint as chief executive, Bennack served as executive vice president and chief operating officer of Hearst and, before that, as vice president and general manager of the Hearst Newspaper Group. He also served in a variety of management posts, including a seven-year tenure (1967 to 1974) as publisher and editor of the San Antonio Light.
As a teenager, the San Antonio native was host of both television and radio programs. He eventually entered publishing in his hometown and rose from classified advertising salesman to newspaper publisher by the age of 34.
Bennack has received honors for his charitable work from such organizations as the American Heart Association, United Cerebral Palsy and the Inner-City Scholarship Fund of New York. His industry awards include the Gold Medal from the International Radio & Television Society in 1991, the Trustees’ Award (Emmy) from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1993, the 1997 Center for Communication Award, the Distinguished Public Service Award from the Advertising Council in 1999 and the 1999 Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Broadcasters. In 2007, he was elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.