Reports Virginia CFO Awards

CFO kept his focus in deals that transformed company

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James F. Woodward
Media General Inc.

James Woodward never thought of himself as being cool under pressure, but people who work with him noticed his calm demeanor during Media General’s epic transformation.

“He keeps things in perspective,” says Stephen Theuer, partner at Deloitte & Touche in Richmond. “He remains calm. He moves things forward and is committed to doing it right.”

Woodward led the series of transactions that transformed Media General from a newspaper company with 18 television stations into the second-largest local broadcaster in the U.S. As a result, the company’s market capitalization rose from $200 million to $2.5 billion.

The company had revenue of $1.4 billion last year and employed 5,300 people.

Woodward believes his focus helped keep him calm through the sale of  63 daily and weekly newspapers (including the 165-year-old Richmond Times-Dispatch) to a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary and during mergers with TV station owners Young Broadcasting and LIN Media.

(Media General founded Virginia Business magazine in 1986. It was sold to Richmond-based Virginia Capital Partners LLC in 2009.)

As Media General transformed its business model, it went through two CEO changes and two recompositions of its board of directors in three years.

Media General now operates or services 71 television stations in 48 markets in addition to being an industry leader in digital media.

Woodward, a graduate of James Madison University, started his professional career at Media General in 1983. During the past 32 years, he has served in eight different roles, assuming responsibility for various operations including digital media and broadcast technology. 

He enjoys the challenge of accepting new responsibilities. “You have to have a strong sense of knowing what you don’t know. Then it becomes less threatening,” he says. “You can say to yourself ‘I don’t know this but I can solve this and figure it out.’”

When he became CFO, Media General was in a tough spot. He was tasked with figuring out how to turn a company with a heavy debt burden into a growing company with stable outlook.

“It was my biggest challenge because of the risk,” he says. “If it had not gone well, I don’t know what would have happened. Getting the company back to its financial health gives everyone from the shareholders to the guy that delivers the mail a sense of security. That was the most critical piece. Now it’s a very healthy company with a good share price. There is plenty of room to grow. We are not done yet.”

In 2014 Woodward won the Distinguished CFO Award from the Media Financial Management Association for his leadership in the company’s changes. The organization’s president and CEO, Mary Collins, and her board members were impressed with Woodward’s history.

“He is a gentleman, and I don’t use that word lightly,” she says. “He is kind, respectful and self-effacing. You look at the things the man has accomplished and he has every reason to be arrogant but he is not that way. He cares about the industry and his community.”

Woodward is the first to acknowledge that nobody “does this on their own.”

“I am blessed to work with terrific people,” he says. One of my jobs is to make those people around me wildly successful. That is a bit selfish, I know, because if I do that, I can be wildly successful.”

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