Thriving on optimism
By Kate Bulkley
Sep. 14, 2004
LONDON -- Michael Garin has been in the TV business for decades, but the 58-year-old New Yorker isn't eager to retire. In fact, since his appointment as the CEO of Central European Media Enterprises (CME) last December, his work week sometimes extends to 80 hours, and he's approaching the 6 million-mile mark on American Airlines' frequent flyer program — and he is happy about it. "This job is really a joy for me," Garin says.
Running CME, which has operated broadcast TV stations in Eastern and Central Europe for the past 10 years, plays to strengths that Garin has honed since he co-founded Lorimar Telepictures in 1978 in Hollywood. "The opportunity to work in a region where people are optimistic about their future and where consolidation and scale hasn't crushed their spirits is an incredible privilege," Garin said over lunch here recently. "There is a feeling in these markets that the individual can make a difference. It reminds me of the earliest days of Telepictures."
Garin's career track led him from Telepictures (which was sold to Time Warner in 1989) to investment banking and then an Internet technology company that got caught in the dot-com crash. He was asked to join CME's board in late 2003 but was tapped to be the new CEO within days of his first board meeting by company chairman and founder Ronald Lauder, of the Estee Lauder family.
Garin's appreciation for non-U.S. businesses (acquired during his years in investment banking) meshed perfectly with a long-held vision of Lauder, a former U.S. ambassador to Austria. Lauder's idea was to invest in commercial TV to promote the economic and political development of former Iron Curtain countries and make money along the way. "It's called doing well by doing good," Garin says.
So far the vision has posted a number of successes and one big setback for CME, namely in the Czech Republic, where one of CME's original TV investments became the subject of protracted legal and diplomatic wrangling. The dispute was finally resolved before Garin took over as CEO, and the company has benefited from a rich financial settlement, giving Garin access to $190 million in cash to grow.
Now with 1,500 staff and TV channels in the Ukraine, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and, most recently, Croatia, Garin's target is double-digit growth for the Nasdaq-listed CME in each of the next five years. He also has eyes on acquisitions — both TV and radio — in these markets and in neighboring countries like Serbia. "The CME stations have a very professional on-air look and approach to ratings. Where they have a ways to go is in realizing the value of the audiences they are creating," says Garin, outlining what his next challenge will be.
"The multinational companies have been enjoying an imbalanced relationship for several years in these countries," Garin says about a situation he is set on changing. "What I love about this business is that advertising and TV are interdependent. Eventually, that leads to an equilibrium because at the end of the day what's fair is fair."