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Warner Bros. Hires First Female CEO In Studio History

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For the first time in the history of Warner Bros., a woman will be the head of the studio; Ann Sarnoff was named chair and CEO.

Though Sarnoff, 57, will be a new face to some in Hollywood, the Massachusetts native comes to the role with decades of experience in media and entertainment companies. Prior to joining BBC Worldwide, she was president of Dow Jones Ventures, COO of the WNBA and executive vice president for consumer products and business development at Nickelodeon.

A competitive golfer, Sarnoff holds a B.S. from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and an MBA from Harvard Business School. “She came with a fancy business degree, but she didn’t act like it,” says Geraldine Laybourne, who was president of Nickelodeon when Sarnoff was a young executive there. “When she left, it was a tremendous loss to Viacom. She’s a leader with a backbone, and she uses that backbone to do the right thing.”

“We talked about all the shape-shifting happening, the disruption of how people are consuming media and the new routes to market,” says Sarnoff, who participated in the launch of a streaming service called Britbox at the BBC, for people who love British programming but can’t find it on more traditional media. “How do you take an amazing set of assets and continue to evolve and address the dynamics in the business?”

“I’ve worked in many different companies with many different cultures,” says Sarnoff, to WarnerMedia unveiled her hiring. “I don’t know the details and the inside story of the [Warner Bros.] culture…. But I look forward to bringing my style and my perspective into the culture at Warner Bros., a style that’s collaborative, respectful of talent, of knowing of who’s smart and who to listen to.”

When Ann Sarnoff steps onto the Warner Bros. lot as its new chair and CEO later this summer, she’ll be the first woman to hold the job in the 96-year history of the studio. Even in an industry that has been rocked by the #MeToo movement, Sarnoff, who is currently president of BBC Studios Americas, will face an unusual cultural challenge — she’ll be taking over the job previously held by Kevin Tsujihara, an executive who was ousted following a Hollywood Reporter story in March that depicted him allegedly trying to get acting roles for a woman with whom he was having an affair. (Tsujihara says he had no direct role in the hiring of the actress).

“I am delighted Ann is joining the WarnerMedia team and excited to work side by side with such a talented and accomplished individual,” said John Stankey, WarnerMedia chief executive said in a press release. “She brings a consistent and proven track record of innovation, creativity and business results to lead an incredibly successful studio to its next chapter of growth.”

“Ann has shown the ability to innovate and grow revenues and has embraced the evolution taking place in our industry. I am confident she will be a great cultural fit for WarnerMedia and that our employees will embrace her leadership, enthusiasm, and passion for our business,” said Stankey.

Warner Bros. motion picture and television chiefs Toby Emmerich and Peter Roth will report to Sarnoff. Having worked at Nickelodeon in the ’90s, she brings an expertise on an audience all the studios hope to better reach. “I was at Nickelodeon when millennials were born, and I know a lot about them, because they were our audience,” Sarnoff says. “I’ve watched them grow up, and I know a little about how they consume media.”

For the meantime, Warner Bros. will be headed by an interim team and Sarnoff will “join the company later this summer,” WarnerMedia said in a press release.

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