September 2009

César Conde: Univision’s big bet

His appointment as President of Univision sends a strong signal to the Hispanic community and brings the company into digital times.

By David Adams
Pablo Garcia


César Conde, the newly appointed president of media giant, Univision, is only 35. But a quick look at his resume and it’s easy to see why he was picked to head the nation’s most-watched Spanish language television network.

Conde, who will replace longtime president Ray Rodriguez, has served most recently as the company’s chief strategy officer. In that position he has overseen the network’s drive to extend its mandate beyond news and entertainment to a civic leadership role in the Hispanic community. The buzzword Univision executives like to use is Hispanic “empowerment.” It’s been a highly successful form of corporate re-branding for Univision that has seen it take an ever more active role in promoting U.S. citizenship applications, voter registration drives and get-out-the vote efforts, as well as intense news coverage of the U.S. immigration debate.

While his new responsibilities will now include direct oversight of programming, including plans to develop more original shows, Conde owes his meteoric rise to a keen sense of Univision’s corporate citizen identity, which lies at the roots of the network’s origin in 1986, and its predecessor, Spanish International Network (SIN).

“He gets that part of the job very well,” says Alfredo Balsera, head of Balsera Communications Group, a leading Hispanic public affairs firm in Miami. “Having him at the helm of Univision is going to be invaluable because Hispanic empowerment is something he cares about.”

Conde also brings to Univision a rare blend of Hispanic cultural background with an all-American upbringing, which analysts say is key to the network’s success. “He is fully bi-cultural,” says Sergio Bendixen, president of Bendixen and Associates, the Miami-based public opinion research firm. “This guy is a mix of Hispanic and American culture. He understands Latin America and the different way many of the people who come here look at life, and he understands the American way.”

It’s right there in his unusual ethnic background. His Peruvian-born father is a top cardiologist at Mount Sinai hospital on Miami Beach. His Cuban-American mother went back to school after the boys left home, earning a Phd at the University of Miami in international relations.

The eldest of three brothers, Conde moved to Miami at a year old and graduated from Belen Jesuit Preparatory, a Cuban-American stable of future young professionals. “I consider myself a native Miamian,” he says. “From a very young age my parents did a good job of instilling in my brothers and me a sense of real pride in our heritage and our culture, and we have a very good appreciation of the immigrant experience.”

Conde’s younger brothers are also both highly successful professionals. Jorge, 32, is CEO of a leading Boston biotech firm, Knome, offering personal genome sequencing and analysis. Enrique, 30, is a corporate attorney with Greenberg Traurig. After studying at Harvard, Conde got his MBA at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Conde started out as an investment banker in the mergers and acquisitions group at Salomon Smith Barney. But he realized it wasn’t for him. “I knew I didn’t want to be in the service industry, per se. I wanted to focus on building a company, building a product,” he says.

He got his baptism in “new media” as vice president for business development at StarMedia Network, the first internet company to focus on Spanish and Portuguese-speaking audiences.

In 2002 he was nominated to serve as a White House Fellow, appointed by President George W. Bush. “I am a huge believer in public service and I just thought it was the perfect time in my career to take the time to understand how government works, ideally in the hope of being able to bridge the public and private sectors in more effective ways.”

He served his fellowship as a special assistant to Secretary of State Colin Powell. When he joined, the country was in the build-up for the invasion of Iraq. “It was a wonderful experience to see on the inside how government and policy gets made,” he said. He came to admire Powell’s managerial leadership style with daily 8 a.m. team meetings. He hit it off with Powell, traveling with him to South America, as well being sent on a two-week mission to Afghanistan.

A loyal team player himself, Conde isn’t one to spill the beans on that tense period in the Bush administration and the divisions in the White House. While politically conservative, he doesn’t wear his politics on his sleeve. He is not associated with Cuban-American politics, and instead serves on the board of the Cuban American National Council (CNC), a non-profit organization providing human services to persons in need from all racial and ethnic groups. Together with his brothers he co-founded the Futuro Program, a non-profit organization that provides role models and educational workshops to Hispanic high school students.

After his stint with Powell, Conde joined Univision in late 2003, saying it allowed him to combine his interest in the media business, and his passion for the Hispanic community and the political policy issues issues that affect it. “I was trying to find a company that would mesh those two things,” he says. “I really felt a particular bond with the potential of what Univision could be.”

At Univision he has worked on corporate development, sales and its interactive services, as well as heading one of its sister stations, cable channel Galavisión, where he was responsible for all of its functions, including programming, promotions, operations, talent relations and original productions. After Univision was bought in 2007 by a private equity group led by billionaire media investor Haim Saban, Conde was appointed as special assistant to the new CEO, Joe Uva. Conde will continue to report to Uva when he assumes his new role on October 1, overseeing Univision as well as Galavisión and the over-the-air TeleFutura network.

Current Univision president Ray Rodriguez, 58, will retire from the company at the end of the year after nearly 20 years at Univision.

“I have worked very closely with Cesar over the last several months and he has consistently shown that he is a creative thinker and a motivational leader with keen strategic insights,” says Uva. “His significant tenure with Univision, deep experience across several divisions of the Company and vast industry knowledge give him a unique ability to help us further grow and define Univision’s role within the rapidly evolving U.S. media industry,” Uva adds. “Cesar is the ideal person for this position, and I look forward to continuing to work with him to drive the company’s growth and development.”

Conde has a reputation for being mature beyond his years, and he comes across as relaxed yet highly focused and analytical during a 90-minute interview in Miami’s Brickell banking district, where he lives.

He’s as happy talking about his personal life as he is about Univision. He has a lot going on right now, with his new job as well his engagement to Peruvian-born Pamela Silva, an Emmy-award-winning morning news anchor at Univision.

The couple plan to marry early next year. “He wears his youth well,” says Pedro de Cordoba, chief strategy officer at Eventus, a Miami-based sports and entertainment firm that does business with Univision. “He’s very comfortable in his skin.”

Young, talented, and successful he may be, but it doesn’t seem to have gone to his head. “His key to success is that he’s very approachable,” says longtime friend and former colleague at Univision, Jorge Plasencia, CEO of República, a Miami-based public relations firm. “He doesn’t have an ego and he never puts himself first. He is someone that has an amazing way of mixing the academic background that he has with the nuts and bolts, get your hands dirty, approach to business,” says Plasencia.

When the conversation turns to business it’s easy to see how he earned his reputation for analytical smarts.As the No. 1 Spanish language network with an 80-plus percent market share, Conde says Univision is “more than a media company, it’s a social, cultural, political force.”

Given the enormous socio-economic challenges issues facing Hispanics, whether it be immigration, housing, education, or unemployment, Conde says Univision serves as “a lifeline to the Hispanic community in this country.”

The company’s three-pronged mantra of “inform, entertain and empower” brings with it a lot of responsibility. Thanks to daily ratings, the company has a good idea how well it is informing and entertaining. “I want to make sure that we do an equally good job on the third part,” he says. “That means advocating and working on behalf of the issues that matter to the Hispanic community.”

He rattles off some numbers to make his point. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that by 2007 the nation’s Hispanic population had reached 45.5 million, representing 15.1 percent of the total U.S. population. Hispanics are also the fastest-growing ethnic group, increasing in size at a rate of 3.3 percent year-to-year, and the United States is now the world’s fourth largest Spanish-speaking country.

Critics say Univision let its civic role slip under previous owner, Hollywood media mogul Jerry Perenchio, who made his name as a former celebrity talent agent for the like of Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor. But it rediscovered its community roots when the Saban group bought the network.

“Under Perenchio it was all about profit, and forget about the civic role. The network downplayed in Washington and political coverage,” Bendixen says. “Under the new management Cesar changed all that and he reinstated Univision into the political world.”

Univision partnered with Hispanic organizations to sponsor Ya Es Hora, as effort to encourage elligible Hispanics to apply for U.S. citizenship. That evolved into a voter registration drive in 2007 and a get-out-the-vote campaign in 2008.

The numbers speak to the success of the effort. The campaign exceeded its goal to get 1 million Hispanics to apply for citizenship, with an estimated 1.4 million applications in only 14 months. U.S. immigration service reports that 1 million completed the citizenship process in 2008, of which 44 percent were Hispanic. Also in the November 2007 elections a record 9.7 million Hispanics turned out.

Conde has emerged as “a key liason between the company and Hispanic organizations and has quickly earned respect of the community’s leadership,” says Arturo Vargas, director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), which collaborated with Univision and other Hispanic organizations on Ya Es Hora.

The network also pulled off an unprecedented coup in 2008, hosting the first-ever Spanish language presidential debates for both Republican and Democratic party candidates. “For the first time the candidates had to speak directly to Hispanic voters, not through their surrogates,” Conde says.

Conde also spearheaded the launch of Al Punto, the network’s first Sunday morning current affairs show, hosted by Jorge Ramos.

Ya Es Hora is now moving into a new phase to encourage census participation by Hispanics prior to the April 1 2010 deadline. Univision is also getting ready to launch its next civic endeavor: an education campaign designed by a special advisory board put together by Univision.

Conde notes that 50 percent of Hispanic high school students do not graduate. That becomes even more troubling when one considers that half of the nation’s growth is represented by children born to Latino mothers. “That’s not a Hispanic issue, that’s an American issue,” he says.

Conde took his message to Washington earlier this year, at the invitation of Balsera, who was a key Hispanic adviser to the Obama campaign and enjoys high level access to the administration.

Balsera took Conde to the White House to meet the president’s key Latino advisers. “All the talk was about empowerment,” says Balsera. “Cesar was very impressive. He’s been in government. He understands politics.”

Conde takes over leadership at Univision at a challenging time for the network. Revenues everywhere in the media world are down, including some key Univision markets. The new ownership took on a large debt when it acquired the network in 2007.

Competition from new media sources, including rival Spanish language TV is also growing. But Conde credits Univision’s community activism for a continued growth of the network’s audience, even as the more established English speaking networks are in a freefall.

Univision now holds the number one rating across all stations—English and Spanish—in several big markets, such as Los Angeles, New York and Miami.

“It’s in the realm of possibility that in five years or so, Univision could be No. 1 nationally,” he says. “That creates an incredible platform.”

To do that the network will have to continue to adapt, including generating more of its own original programming. About 40 percent of the network’s programming, especially its popular telenovelas, comes from outside sources, principally Mexican giant Televisa. But its highly advantageous programming agreement with Televisa runs out in 2017.

“The reason they stayed No, 1 is because they have access to Televisa’s programming,” says Bendixen. “Now they have eight years to figure out what they are going to do. That’s a big challenge.”

The network just launched its first web novela, Vidas Cruzadas, which is an in-house production comprised of short five-minute episodes running on Univision.com. It’s a bold foray into a new medium that is sure to grow in importance.

Conde, who already has witnessed so many changes in media, thinks he has the answer. “We are constantly innovating and we plan to accelerate that innovation."

Update: 4 years later


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Tim Loughran
2009-08-31 08:25:53

I had a hard time believing this story about a serious-beyond-his-years and civic-minded media executive, since the photo PODER selected undermines that message rather strongly.

judith chanco
2009-11-19 23:29:03

Muchos exitos, te lo mereces y estoy muy orgulloza que parte de ti sea de origen de mi lindo Pais Peru, yo soy ciudadana americana pero estoy muy orgulloza de ser Peruana, nuevamente muchos exitos. Judy (una fan mas :)

Ana Mendoza-Burgos
2010-04-02 10:03:19

I was a contributor back in my country. every time a reporter needed me I was available. I would like to contribute here. Please contact me to explain more. No necesito pago, solo la satisfaccion de ser util.Vine huyendo de la violencia en mi pais y tengo tres maestrias en el area de salud. Por favor ayudenme a vivir!!!

2010-04-12 14:53:37

Buenas tardes Cesar: me llamo Aida y trabajo de Voluntaria en la Fundacion de Epilpesia de la Forida y Cordialmenta los envitamos a todo el elenco de Univision 23 a nuestra 3er Caminata anual de nuestra fundacion que se lleva acabo cada ano. La razon que hacemos es para educar, y apoyar a ayudar a personas como que tiene epilpesia y necesitan asistencia y que cada ano hay miles de casos nuevos de America y Hispanos mundialmente. Envitamos a su familiares, vecinos y empliados que tengan informacion y ayuden nuestra causa especial. Por favor Cesar si tienen preguntas o necesitan informacion llemenos all 305-670-4949 y pregunte por Aida o Jose Nieto encargado de ayudarles. Fecha; Abril 18, 2010 Horas: Antes de 7;30am Lugar Tropical Park, Pavilion # 11 Gracia por su atencion y ojala que esten apoyando a nuestra organizacion que siga adelante para ayudar nuestros queridos hermanos y hermanas.

ramon hernandez
2010-04-16 20:25:05


Rico Piccard
2010-06-12 16:27:59

Mr. Conde, Congratulations in your selection. I applaud your revamping the sports programs for Univision but wonder why coomunity programming to educate hispanics is so low, everything has to be paid and you know as a cuban that hispanics in the USA are not wealthy. What can you do to provide more access to community groups? I am in Central Florida and I am involved in community enpowerment. Yours truly, Rico Piccard

2010-10-06 10:39:21


Alma Garcia
2010-10-26 18:58:26

Cesar, lo felizito por tan exitosa carrera. Llo tengo decadas viendo el canal 34. Ay algo que siempre me a impactado y me gustaria comentar al respecto. Porque siendo un cal de abla ispana, asta hoy no e visto un programa que se emphoque el educar a nuestra gente. Como usted sabe la majoria de el publico somos en mucho de los casos personas que no tubimos la oportuninda de una buena educacion. Porque no tener un programa educativo para todas las familias? Porque no abrir por lo menos una hora de las 24 hora que univision es vista y allocar tiempo para educar a nuestra gente. Por ejemplo, la majoria de las personas enfermas de diabetis son hispanas. Por que no tener un doctor el el program que discuta el tema de la diabeties por porsiones diarias? Porque no ablar el un programa de television sobre problemas de adolencia o nuebas mama? Porque casi todo tiene que ser novelas? Las novelas son buena distraction pero la falta de educacion en nuestra cultura es una distracion fatal que causa vidas. Disculpe mi problema de deletreo. Llo nunca termine la primaria pero me esfuerso por comunicar mi opinion. Alma Garcia

iron samurai watch
2011-02-15 21:05:00

I have Verizon's Palm Pre Together with and can't appear to cautious of any flash videos on the browser. I've tried to download adobe shaft player but it won't earmarks of to lessen me. Anyone differentiate what to do?

rose torres
2010-12-08 22:15:22

Congratulations, you have reach a position that allows you to influence and empower the Hispanic community!! Univision delivers news to a large audience of Hispanics, that seek to be inform and make educated voting decisions, like my family and other families through out the US.. Will Univision offer informative non-bias debates? A forum, with opposing sides and facts to support their positions on issues including international relations? I hope so.. Thank you!

2011-02-06 12:37:42

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Edgardo Torralvo-numerologo profesional
2011-03-27 13:56:16

Me gustaria hacerle el analisis de Cesar Conde, pero no he podido conseguir su fecha de nacimiento. Si alquien la sabe la agradeceria me la diera y enviarle su analisis. Estoy en www.midestino.com creo que debe ser un alma muy antigua.

Edgardo Torralvo-numerologo profesional
2011-03-27 14:08:15

La vida gira en ciclos, el saberlos y hacer lo que corresponde en cada uno de ellos es el gran secreto del exito del hombre sobre la Tierra. Si no lo cree entre a www.midestino.com y cerciorece por Ud. mismo

carmen ocasio- medical field
2011-03-29 12:27:39

Felicitaciones!!! Mr.conde,Latinos del calibre suyo necesitamos a monton para ganar mas respeto y buen lugar en este pais.Que dios le vendiga y adelante con mas logros. De nuevo Felicitaciones!!!!!!!!!!!1