Remembering Dan Burke

October 26, 2011 1:34:14 PM PDT
We at ABC tonight are remembering one of the pivotal executives in the company's history. Dan Burke was a broadcasting pioneer who, along with Tom Murphy, took their big dreams and their small TV company few had heard of and to the shock of an industry, bought the much larger ABC Television Network back in 1986.

The purchase was a surprise to everyone except those who knew Dan and Tom.

What do these guys know about running a network? That was the commonly heard refrain back then. Of course it turned out they knew plenty. And Capital Cities ended up saving ABC, and building it - building it big enough and profitable enough that it was bought by The Walt Disney Company nearly a decade later.

Dan's philosophy - Cap Cities' philosophy - was always simple and straight forward: Serve the viewers. For those of us who work here, it remains the philosophy that still guides the network and its stations.

You walk into ABC headquarters here, and Dan's picture is there - a symbol that his presence in so many ways is still felt, and always will be.

I remember the first time I met Dan; I had just been hired at ABC - this was back in December, 1992 - and I was making my way at a gathering to introduce myself to him. I didn't have to. He extended his hand, welcomed me to the company and wished me good luck with the then-new show I was part of (a weekend edition of Good Morning America). I was floored, but folks who knew Dan told me that was how he rolled. Not that he wasn't one tough customer: He was a shrewd businessman, always with an eye to the bottom line.

He and Murphy made the smart decision to elevate a young programming executive named Bob Iger to President of ABC, and then, later, to President of CapCities. So Bob was at the helm when Burke and Murphy's company was bought by Disney. And Bob rose there too, to President and CEO. So in a very real way, Dan Burke's legacy lives on - several corporate changes later.

One more thing about Burke - and Murphy. Back then they made the wise decision to offer their workers incentives that would allow them to think and behave like managers. Like owners.

So they offered a company stock purchase plan that was brilliant. By November, employees of CapCities could buy the company stock for 85% of what the stock was selling for the past April. With hindsight you could make an important financial decision. And because CapCities stock was almost always going up, buying at that kind of discount was a slam dunk.

In fact, some company executives used to joke that this was an intelligence test for dummies: If the stock was selling at $100 in April, and $110 in November, workers could buy it for $85 a share. Lots of employees made lots of money buying CapCities stock over the years.

But more important than the money - the workers who participated suddenly felt they had a bigger stake in the company (bigger than the paychecks they were already getting). They started behaving and thinking like stockholders, like owners. And it paid off.

Would that more companies these days did what Dan Burke and his partner Tom Murphy did back then.

I'm just sayin'.

So we're thinking of Dan tonight, who died at the age of 82, from complications of Type I diabetes. He lived in Rye. Our thoughts are with his family.

We're working right now on tonight's 11 p.m. newscast. We're looking at Pres. Obama's plan to lower college loan payments for students who can't afford to pay them. He wants to limit payments to a maximum 10 percent of their discretionary income. Millions of young adults - behind in their debt payments - could save a lot of money. College loans are now the number-two source of household debt, right behind housing costs. So, will this help the economy? The President certainly thinks so - and it's one of the things he can do without Congressional approval.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, and our feature story tonight is by Eyewitness News reporter Kemberly Richardson, who takes a look at what some baby boomer women are doing to smooth out wrinkles in their chest area. Cleavage rejuvenation is what they call it.

Does it work? Is it worth it?

Meteorologist Lee Goldberg will have his AccuWeather forecast, and Rob Powers has the night's sports. I hope you can join Sade Baderinwa and me, tonight at 11.


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