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Shape Shifter

1/30/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

Eight years ago, Sherry Brennan retired. Then a Cablevision Systems
programming executive, she was at a high point in her 15-year cable
career. But she wanted to have a baby.

“I was 40 years old, and I knew it was going to be challenging because
I had some medical issues,” Brennan says. “If I didn’t have a
baby, I didn’t want to blame my job for not having a kid.”

She managed to make a clean break. She quit her job and vowed
never to work in corporate America again.

By the time her son, Lorenzo, was 10 months old,
Brennan decided stay-at-home motherhood was not for
her. “I was like, ‘Alright, what am I doing here,’ ” she recalls
with a laugh. “I was kind of bored.”

‘PERSUASIVE POWERS’

She started putting feelers out and learned of a job opportunity
at Fox Networks. “I called everyone who knew Mike
Hopkins, who is my boss here, and said, ‘please call him or
email him and tell him [about me], ‘and I guess the combination
of my persuasive powers and my friends’ resulted
in Mike ending up hiring me.”

As senior vice president of distribution strategy and development,
Brennan has been instrumental in shaping the
programmer’s pay TV distribution. Responsible for developing
multiple growth strategies for Fox’s diverse group
of networks, she is in charge of discerning new business
models with alternative platform distributors and directs
long-range digital strategy.

She recently spearheaded Fox’s long-term renewal to
distribute the English-speaking version of China Central
Television — the largest broadcaster in China — in
the United States.

“She really has the ability to sort of look at the big picture,
think critically about the issues and bring them back
to be relevant to what we’re doing,” Hopkins, president of
distribution at Fox Networks, says.

“With the partnerships that she deals with, she really
does a good job of being able to communicate well with
what we’re doing for that partnership,” Hopkins says. “And
she does a good job of making sure she represents us well.
If the other side ever feels there’s something they’re unhappy
about, she is able to explain the situation and make
sure they realize the importance of the partnership, and
solve any problems.”

Adds 2010 Wonder Women Rita Tuzon, executive vice
president and general counsel for Fox Networks Group:
“Sherry is the go-to person who can talk to the technical
people and understand it and then communicate that
to the business people so they can understand it. Sherry
can make very complicated things understandable.”

Brennan’s work ethic developed early, growing up in
a lower-middle-class working family in Iowa City, Iowa.
“When I was a kid, all of my friends’ parents were professors
at the University of Iowa,” Brennan says. “And
even though my dad was a washing-machine repairman,
my friends’ parents all had Ph. Ds. I could see the difference
in their lives versus my life, and I knew which
one I wanted.”

After receiving her master’s degree in economics,
she began working on her Ph. D. Then, she dropped
out. “Getting a Ph. D in economics is no slouch achievement,”
she says. “You really have to be dedicated, and I
knew I wasn’t. I left and went to work for the Federal Reserve
Bank, which was fascinating.”

The excitement wore off quickly. Af ter a while
she began looking around for jobs in the private
sector, and in January of 1989, she was hired
as an analyst at California-based Falcon Cable
before moving to New York-centric cable
operator Cablevision Systems in 1996.

“At a pretty young age, Sherry was what I would call
a complete executive,” Mac Budill, executive vice president
at Cablevision, says.

Budill praised Brennan as a quick thinker with fresh
ideas, a deft project manager and a capable negotiator.
“She had a pretty well-rounded portfolio of skills, and
she was very eff ective for us — and for me — and it was
a big loss when she left.”

PREACHES AWARENESS

Brennan tries to impress upon people she mentors and
with whom she works the importance of being aware of
their decisions, and accepting the consequences of decisions
gracefully.

“Sometimes people make decisions that seem fun, or
right, at the time, and then they’re not really aware of
what the consequences are going to be, and they tend to
sometimes get angry about the consequences.”

Her “much-adored boy” is now a first grader who enjoys
books, playing the violin and watching Marx Brothers
movies.

“And he’s not like a mini grown-up, he’s a boy,” she
said, “He likes to play soldier; he had a fake pipe in his
mouth and a hat on the other day and I said, ‘Who are
you?’ And he wouldn’t answer me for a long time, and
I asked him, ‘Lorenzo why aren’t you answering me?’
And he said, ‘Mom, I’m being sculpted, I can’t move.’ ”

September