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November 14, 2011

The View From The Top

nancy dubuc

Photo Credit: Ryan Pfluger

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Nancy Dubuc, President and General Manager, Lifetime and History Networks

LAST YEAR, capping a stellar rise as a television executive who had already revitalized A&E and The History Channel, Nancy Dubuc became president and general manager of Lifetime and History Networks at the age of 41. Unlike many women, she is refreshingly forthright about the pleasures of success.

"What I get to do is such a privilege, and one of the things women don't talk about enough is how great it is when you get to the top," Dubuc says. "It's better; it's freeing. You make more money; you have more support. It took me 10 or 15 years to be able to say, 'Power is good.' As women, we're programmed not to say that; the word has a negative connotation. But ultimately, what power is, is a tremendous amount of freedom and creativity. Women use power well, and we need to recognize that and not be so afraid of talking about it."

Despite her professional accomplishments, Dubuc was not one of those academic achievers whose success seems destined from an early age. "It's a terrible thing to say, but I hated school," she admits. "I'm very ADD, and my report card always said, 'If only she performed to her potential.'"

But then, somewhere between growing up in Rhode Island and attending Boston University, Dubuc happened upon the idea of a career in television. "I read a magazine article about a booker at Nightline, and I thought, That sounds really cool — you'd get to meet really interesting people!" she says. Her early jobs as a desk assistant and line producer were formative in shaping her approach to life as well as work. "Live news teaches you some incredibly strong lessons: that every day is a new day, and it's never too late to fix something," she says.

Such concepts have served her well in dealing with the unforgiving metrics of the television ratings game. "I work in an industry where we get a report card every single day, so I have my successes and failures on a daily basis," Dubuc says. "It really sucks, and it takes a long time to get used to, but it really thickens your skin after a while."

The mother of two children, who are 5 and 8, Dubuc lives in Manhattan with her husband, an advertising executive, and commutes to Los Angeles at least once a month — a schedule abetted by her "wonderful nanny" and her parents, who often help care for the kids. Hectic though it is, she wouldn't dream of scaling back her career.

"I'm a very goal-oriented person, and work is really rewarding," she says. "It's how I take care of my family, and ultimately I'm never going to let that responsibility fall to anybody but myself."

Juggling her own responsibilities is a challenge, but she handles it with characteristic rigor. A rower in college, Dubuc still exercises every day. "I really hate it, but I know it's the right thing to do, and I've discovered it's my only hour to myself," she says. "I do it at 6 a.m., before everyone is awake. I lead a pretty disciplined life, but one of the regrets I'm experiencing now is that my friends have become my guilty pleasure. I have a very important posse of girlfriends I've been with since I was 13, and it's hard to see them."

One form of daily respite is playing a couple games of Scrabble on her iPad before she goes to bed: "It takes your mind off everything," Dubuc says.

As for keeping up with her husband, she makes sure to schedule time alone. "We have 'date night,'" she reports. "We put the kids to bed and go out after that. It's important to give yourself a venue to have that adult conversation."

Another key to managing it all is not being too hard on yourself, Dubuc says. "Women beat themselves up a lot about everything: Am I doing the right thing for my kids? Am I doing the right thing for my husband? Am I doing the right thing for myself? Am I doing the right thing for my friends? You have to remind yourself every day that you're doing the best you can — and you have another chance to do it again tomorrow."


1. TO ADVANCE YOUR CAREER: "You have to find somebody who believes in you. I'm a big believer in picking your boss, not the job. Great people create great jobs."

2. WHEN YOUR PROGRESS HITS A PLATEAU: "Take those moments of opportunity and use them for self-development. Find the thing you know you need to improve and make this time the boot camp for learning it."

3. NO MATTER WHAT PROBLEMS YOU CONFRONT: "You have to see them as learning opportunities and management challenges, and handle them with a sense of calm and control and responsibility to those around you. You have to look at every issue in terms of what it's doing for the department or the company."

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