Linda Yaccarino: Building Businesses and Challenging Legacies

By Hilarey Wojtowicz

Linda Yaccarino As Chairman, Advertising and Partnerships, NBCUniversal, and the daughter of a fierce Italian mother, Linda Yaccarino learned early on to race toward where the business was going, while bringing a whole lot of humanity, compassion, and style along the way.

From innovating in ways that drive the marketing industry forward, to keeping her family and values in mind at all times, Linda continues to inspire others to challenge legacies while building their own.

“The old line is “if you build it they will come,” Linda says. “But in my experience, you have to come ready to build.”

You’ve worked within large media conglomerates for years, while embodying an entrepreneurial spirit. What did you do to work your way up to the top and what advice would you give to those striving to do the same in that environment?

I learned early on that if you’re focused on growth, you’re innovating. And if you’re innovating, you’re focused on the future. This is why I love building new things and finding new ways to grow. That mindset is addicting.

Throughout my career I’ve been studying the business, paying attention to consumer trends, scrutinizing the marketplace, and asking what’s next. Leaders like Ted Turner, Brian Roberts, Steve Burke, and now Jeff Shell, have trusted me, and given me the latitude to be the entrepreneur I always dreamed of being. Imagine having the freedom to combine all the resources, scale, and security of a giant global company with the energy and innovation of a startup.

You lead a team of 1,500 people. How have you tried to close gaps, increase visibility of underrepresented groups or make progress?

I’ve been on this journey for a long time, working to support our Black colleagues, people of color, women, and veterans. We all need to be even more intentional about our efforts and keep doubling down on our investments. My team is reimagining everything — from how we recruit, retain, train, and develop, to how we operate and collaborate. And we’re going to open up more educational and collaborative programs to all of our partners. Every company must stand shoulder-to-shoulder and share resources so that we can collectively lift up underrepresented voices, combat racial bias, and provide opportunities for people of color. That’s how we will build a more inclusive industry.

How important is it for women especially to take on projects that are tied to a company’s revenue?

Less than 6% of the world’s largest 3,000 companies are run by women. That’s unacceptable. Part of the problem is that men dominate a majority of the jobs considered ‘feeder positions’, such as chief operating officer, head of sales, and chief financial officer. Women hold less than 10% of these roles in large companies. What do they all have in common? Revenue. When you’re directly responsible for revenue, you learn what it takes to run a massive business.

Since 2011, I’ve had the extraordinary opportunity to run advertising and partnerships at NBCUniversal, and be responsible for over $10 billion in annual revenue. I’ve used that platform to offer P&L opportunities to the next generation of leaders because leadership isn’t sitting at the table — it’s running the table.

Describe a time you failed. How did you handle it?

When I was in my early 30s, I had two wonderful young kids and just bought a house. But I made one big career mistake that taught me two lessons. I accepted a job simply because it promised a bigger paycheck, even though there were many red flags. I thought I was doing the right thing for my family. To no one’s surprise, taking that job turned out to be a huge mistake. The bigger mistake was that I didn’t listen to my mentors who told me to reconsider. The money might talk, but when it comes to your mentors — listen.

Who inspires you, and why?

Inspiration starts with my mother. She was a first-generation Italian-American and for her, college wasn’t an option. That was not the future she wanted for us, and she made sure my two sisters and I took every single opportunity she never had. Mom had one rule for us: “Be financially independent.” She is my Kris Jenner.

What message do you hope receiving the Matrix award sends to others who look up to you?

Consider your legacy. Do you want to be remembered as someone who did exactly what was expected? Or do you want to be known as someone who transcends their job description and transformed an entire industry? Let me be clear: It’s up to you to execute on new creative ideas. Always go beyond what’s expected of you. You owe it to yourself.

To learn more about Linda Yaccarino, read her NYWICI Profile here.


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