Mega mergers, opportunity spaces and leveraging tech at Discovery Inc.
We spoke with Gunnar Wiedenfels, CFO of Discovery Inc. to ask him about his journey adopting digital management reporting solutions at the company. What followed was a master class in seeing and seizing opportunity spaces and challenging the status quo with some astonishing results.
When Wiedenfels took up his appointment as CFO at Discovery Inc. in 2017, CEO David Zaslav invited him to take four weeks to “take a good look at Discovery Inc.” and report back his fresh outside-in perspective. Zaslav didn’t have to ask twice.
One of the early observations Wiedenfels made was that the external financial reporting and internal management reporting was focused on high level profit and loss metrics, leaving, “a big gaping hole in the middle”. He saw that the company was not set up to manage for cash as he believed it ought to be. As Wiedenfels stated in a June 2021 interview by the Hollywood Reporter, “cash never lies”.
This observation was a trigger for change. And then came the $14.6 Billion Scripps acquisition, just months after Wiedenfels arrived in New York. “So that obviously created another huge opportunity because now I could share an outside in perspective on not only one new company, but two new companies at the same time.”
Following the acquisition, Discovery Inc. leadership took “a good step back, to think about how we would do things if we were setting this company up from scratch today.” An opening Gunnar described as, “an enormous opportunity space.”
2. First things first: innovate management reporting
One of the early improvements Gunnar and his team initiated was partnering up with Satriun to innovate management reporting at Discovery Inc., using the CXO cockpit, to deliver:
- One version of the truth
- Integrated financial data and management commentary
- New opportunities for analysis and an accurate historical record
This collaboration proved to be a great success. “What’s amazing about Satriun is that I was 100% convinced that they’re delivering what they’re saying. They’re close enough to what’s actually happening, they know what they’re talking about, and they’re making a commitment. And I know that they’re not going to rest until it’s delivered, you know, in time and budget, and I had that experience so many times with Satriun’s executive team and… it’s amazing.”
The project has transformed the efficiency and depth of management reporting at Discovery Inc. During that early period of Gunnar’s tenure as CFO, he and his team achieved $1 Billion in cost synergies. It was reported that in that first year, 2017, the combined Discovery Inc. and Scripps firm reached $3.1 billion in free cash flow.
Fast forward to 2021 and Discovery Inc. is now amidst a $43 billion mega merger with WarnerMedia – a combination that is tipped to create a new content powerhouse, and very possibly a new biggest player in the streaming landscape. The new entity, Warner Bros Discovery has already been branded as, “the stuff that dreams are made from.”
And if ever there was an opportunity to get the best out of tech, this is it. Wiedenfels shared some fascinating insights on this, both in terms of building a new streaming platform and combining the finance functions into “one new big future proof container.”
It sounds very much like opportunity spaces will keep on opening and the emergence of WarnerBros Discovery will certainly be a space to watch closely.
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