Helping inspire the world

James Rosenstock
James Rosenstock, president, Discovery Educational
International; executive vice president, global
corporate development, Discovery Communications

The mission statement of his prospective new employer — “to satisfy curiosity” — resonated with him, as his parents had been teachers, says James Rosenstock (FIN ’95), in recalling a big career move in 2007. But it didn’t hurt, he adds, that the company — Discovery Communications — also owned three of his favorite TV networks.

Rosenstock joined Discovery as a senior vice president, in charge of global mergers and acquisitions, corporate strategy, and new business development, and part of a new management team that would help the company go public in 2008.

He was promoted last year to the newly created position of president of Discovery Education International, to lead international growth strategy of the company’s fast-growing education division.

Rosenstock says Discovery is “unparalleled” as a global brand. “It’s the world’s number one nonfiction media company, with brands in 220 countries and territories and 190 television networks worldwide that truly inspire people’s curiosity about the world around them.

“When we went public in 2008, we had an $8-billion valuation; today our valuation is nearly $30 billion. We’ve made our U.S. channels stronger and have significantly diversified the company internationally and digitally.”

The company also has a “fantastic culture that’s very young and innovative,” he says, citing its listing on the 2014 FORTUNE “100 Best Companies to Work For.”

Kids watching video on laptop
Elementary school students interact with the
Discovery Education Science TechbookTM

Now based at Discovery’s London office, Rosenstock says his priorities are to expand its international education business. “We’ve targeted a few key markets for investment and made our first acquisition in October 2013, buying Espresso Education.” That company is Britain’s leading provider of primary school digital education content, he says, and will serve as Discovery’s “beachhead to develop a broader U.K. business.”

Building a career in media and entertainment

Rosenstock’s career path hasn’t strayed from the world of media and entertainment since he left his first job out of college, at Bank of America in his hometown of Richmond, Va., after two years. Deciding it would be smart to develop expertise in an industry sector — “go deep instead of wide” — he moved to Los Angeles to join a boutique investment bank specializing in the entertainment, media, and communications industries that was co-founded by fellow Hokie Stephen Bannon (UA ’76).

“One of my first deals there was the sale of Polygram Filmed Entertainment,” Rosenstock recalls. “It was a global deal, with many interesting personalities involved. I was hooked.”

He worked in investment banking for eight years, the last three at Credit Suisse in New York. In 2002, an opportunity to switch gears beckoned, and he became Sony Corporation of America’s vice president of corporate development, in charge of growth investments for the company’s electronics, gaming, and entertainment assets.

Growing a global brand

Since moving to Discovery, Rosenstock has helped expand its international operations through investments in broadcast companies in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia. The company now derives more than half its revenue from its foreign businesses, he says, more than any of the other major media conglomerates and up from 25 percent when he was hired.

He has led the company’s two largest acquisitions — SBS Nordic, the leading Nordic broadcast group, in 2012 and Eurosport, a pan-European sports network, in 2013. He also led Discovery’s investment in brain-training company Lumosity and the launch of several joint-venture pay channels, including the child-oriented Hub Network (with Hasbro) and the high-profile OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.

The launch and success of the joint venture with Oprah Winfrey has been “one of the most notable and rewarding challenges for Discovery,” he says. “With programs like ‘Oprah’s Next Chapter’ and the strong-performing Tyler Perry series, the network has really broken out and is now a top three network for African-American women and a top network for women viewers overall.”

Corporate development responsibilities are still on his plate (as Discovery’s executive vice president), and Rosenstock juggles these with his new duties in London. They are two very different jobs, he notes.

His comfort zone is in corporate M&A, but he was also eager for operating responsibilities — “to start and grow a business,” he says. “Discovery has been tremendous in backing my vision for building out our international education business.”

Child holding tablet with friends
Students participate in a virtual
interactive lab available on the
Discovery Education Science

Education in the digital age

Discovery’s education business focuses on digital K-12 products and services that are distinct from its channels business, Rosenstock says, noting that the company is the leading provider of standards-based digital content to K-12 classrooms in the U.S., reaching nearly 50 percent of U.S. schools.

“Our most exciting, and potentially most transformative, products are our digital techbooks, which are core curriculum products that can completely replace print textbooks. We already offer them in the U.S. in science and history; math will be launched next year; and I’m eager to bring these great products to key international markets over the next few years.”

Education is a small and relatively recent component of Discovery’s overall operations, but it is fast growing and “has always been part of the company’s DNA,” Rosenstock says. “In fact, the first viewer phone call after the Discovery Channel’s inaugural program, ‘Iceberg Alley,’ was broadcast in 1985 came from a teacher, who wanted a copy of the show to share with her class.”

His work demands constant travel, but Rosenstock enjoys being on the road. “Some of my favorite cities are Istanbul, Tokyo, and Amsterdam.”

Besides being a great launch pad to other parts of Europe, his new home base is “a tremendous city with a lot of culture and energy.” He misses watching Hokie football games, but the lifelong tennis player was thrilled to check off one bucket list item last summer: going to Wimbledon.

“They say that Southerners in particular do well in London,” Rosenstock says. “I guess time will tell.”

Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Magazine Spring 2014

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