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SBJ/February 28 - March 6, 2005/Forty Under 40
Published February 28, 2005
MARK HOWORTH, NATIONAL MOBILE TELEVISION INC.
BY ANDY BERNSTEIN
It was like running a vineyard without knowing the difference between merlot and cabernet.
|• Age: 39|
|• Title: CEO|
|• Company: National Mobile Television Inc.|
|• Education: B.S., business administration, UC-Berkeley, 1987; MBA, Harvard Business School, 1992|
|• Family: Wife, Amy; sons Ari, 9, and Jack, 8|
|• Career: Worked at consulting giant Bain & Co. from 1987 to 2000; became CEO of NMT in July 2000|
|• Last vacation: Lair of the Bear family camp|
|• Last book read: "The Razor's Edge" by Somerset Maugham|
|• Last movie seen: "The Aviator"|
|• Fantasy job: To be athletic director at UC-Berkeley|
|• Executive most admired: Comcast CEO Brian Roberts|
|• Business advice: There are very few black-and-white situations.|
NMT supplies broadcast trucks, cameras and the accompanying personnel to networks televising live sporting events. It’s about a $300 million-a-year industry in the United States, one that primarily employs hardened veterans who’ve spent half their lives turning knobs on sports broadcasts.
They’d never met a bean counter like Howorth.
“I was the first person in the mobile facilities business who didn’t spend 20 years in it before they got to run one of these companies,” said Howorth, a Harvard Business School grad. “I’m a true outsider.”
Howorth came to NMT via the giant consulting firm Bain & Co., where he was a managing partner. NMT was in deep financial trouble in the late 1990s, after expanding at a breakneck pace and taking on more than $125 million in debt. Bain was hired to help turn NMT around, and after a few months of working for the company as a consultant, Howorth was offered the job of CEO.
The first challenge he faced was that no one in the company really thought of themselves as business people. They were engineers. Technicians. Camera operators. They were all, in a way, artists. To them, the bottom line was the image on the screen, not the number on a ledger.
Trying to get everyone to send out invoices on time, or make cost-effective decisions, that was another story.
“What I’ve tried to do over the last five years is show them the link between doing high-quality TV and doing it in a financially responsible way,” Howorth said.
It’s like saying “no dessert unless you clean your room,” but NMT was in need of plenty of housecleaning back in 2000.
The first thing Howorth did was consolidate debt and get it down to a manageable level of about $50 million. Accounting and other back-room operations were centralized. And the company diversified, creating a consulting division.
He hired Jerry Gepner, a producer and television engineer, from Fox Sports to serve as NMT’s president. Whatever Howorth didn’t know about the technology side of the business, Gepner had either invented or perfected. They were perfect counterparts.
Gepner said Howorth has helped transform not just NMT, but the mobile facilities business as a whole.
“He’s trying to address very core issues in our industry,” Gepner said. “Is he a numbers guy? Absolutely. But business is about numbers. It’s also about relationships. And he understands that, too.”
Howorth made a difficult decision late last year to sell a portion of NMT’s fleet, nine trucks, to its largest competitor, NEP, for about $40 million. Howorth’s company now has 32 trucks, down from 46 when he started. NEP will have slightly more, including the trucks NMT had been supplying to ABC Sports for “Monday Night Football” and other top events.
NMT gave up its lead in market share and its most prestigious client, all in the name of eliminating more debt and becoming poised for more growth.
“Emotionally, it totally tore me up,” Howorth said. “But at the end of the day, it’s the right decision.”