Chris McDonnell leads Hispanic TV station
Imagine Arlington Heights native Chris McDonnell's early days as general manager and president of Telemundo Chicago, the Spanish-language television network owned by NBC.
He's collected an inch-high pile of business cards in the first five weeks of his quest to convince area leaders that a non-Hispanic is up to the job.
And he has to learn to speak Spanish.
Many of the names on those business cards are familiar because McDonnell became vice president of sales and marketing at Telemundo Chicago in 2002 when General Electric and NBC purchased the network.
"They remember my time here, and some call me 'the most Hispanic white guy you'll ever meet,'" he said.
And McDonnell already reads Spanish, so he can concentrate on his speaking skills.
"It was terrifying," he said of his first Telemundo assignment. "Here was a language I was not entirely fluent in with people I didn't know. But it was a chance for the company to grow and also for me personally to grow."
He left Telemundo and Chicago in 2005 to become vice president of sales and marketing for the NBC station in San Diego, followed by a similar job in Dallas.
McDonnell credits his sales management team for the success during the three years in that earlier Telemundo job. And his appreciation for the Hispanic culture grew along with his friendships in the community.
"They have a passion for life and for family and friends. They're a tightly knit group of people," he said Monday. "Those who came to this country each has his or her own set of reasons, but the common theme I think is really the American dream.
"And they certainly had their struggles. I know people who were doctors and lawyers in their home country and started all over again here. Their will to succeed is pretty significant."
In those days McDonnell brought Telemundo his sales and management expertise from the larger operation at NBC, "a different analysis of opportunities that we're missing or could expand upon."
And in his return he brings a rare mix of experience in both Hispanic and mainstream television for his first job as a station's general manager in his 16 years with NBC.
"Chris has an extensive background in broadcast television, including both Spanish-language and general market," said Manuel Abud, the Miami-based president of Telemundo station group.
"He is no stranger to Chicago or Telemundo, having grown up in Chicago and previously managed the Telemundo Chicago sales team. "His strong sales background, coupled with his knowledge of both the market and our organization, make him the ideal leader for our station."
McDonnell and his wife, Pamela, will see their two sons, 13-year-old Colin and 15-year-old Riley adjust to another new city and schools.
"Both boys are required to take Spanish in school. And wherever we live the diversity that they see is very important to me," he said. "It's important for them to understand not everything is just like our neighborhood and the people we are used to seeing. It's a big world out there. And for our kids it will be a fact of life that people speak two languages."
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