People

Persistence, Financial Acumen Pay Off

MCNWW 2017: Determination fueled Christina Spade’s rise to C-suite at Showtime 1/30/2017 8:00 AM Eastern
Christina Spade, EVP/CFO, Showtime Networks

CHRISTINA SPADE

TITLE: Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

COMPANY: Showtime Networks

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: After graduating from St. Joseph’s University in 1991, Spade started working at PricewaterhouseCoopers as an auditor. Showtime named her vice president, programming finance in 1997, promoting her to senior vice president of affiliate and finance operations in 2003, finding funding for the premium channel’s fledgling original programming slate. Spade became EVP and CFO in 2013, after predecessor Jerry Scro retired.

QUOTABLE: “I’ve always had a high threshold for stress. I guess I’ve been through enough stress that it doesn’t rattle me.”

 

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To make it in the finance world, it helps to have a little pit bull to go alongside the requisite financial acumen and people skills. Showtime Networks executive vice president and chief financial officer Christina Spade has a healthy dose of all three of those traits.

 

“She knows how to be tough,” said one of her bosses, Showtime Networks chairman Matt Blank. “But somehow she manages to maintain that and does it in a way that she never offends anybody. People know that Chris knows her stuff. And they better know their stuff, too.”

 

Spade has been at Showtime for nearly 20 years, but her relationship with the company goes back even further. She audited the company’s books for accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers for five years before joining the programmer in 1997 as vice president of programming finance. She was promoted to senior vice president of affiliate and financial operations in 2003, in charge of finding and allocating funds for Showtime’s fledgling original series endeavors.

 

STARTED OUT ACCOUNTING

After financing Showtime originals from Dexter to Homeland, Spade was named EVP and CFO in 2013, taking over for Jerry Scro, who retired that year after more than two decades with the company.

 

Television wasn’t Spade’s career plan when she graduated from St. Joseph’s University in 1991 with an accounting degree. She got a job at Big Six accounting firm PwC, auditing companies in its Philadelphia office. After auditing a Philadelphia publishing company for a week, PwC decided she was ready to move to the New York office and its entertainment and media division.

 

“Showtime was very small back then,” Spade recalled. “They were a one-week audit. But I saw the potential of them breaking out. And even though they were small, they were growing. They were very feisty, very go-get-’em. It was a fun, entrepreneurial environment to be a part of.”

 

Showtime was an established premium movie channel when such channels were mostly all about movies. That changed after rival HBO broke through with The Sopranos. Suddenly, linear series were the rage and Showtime dove in headfirst.

 

Starting with series like Stargate SG-1 in 1997 and later with the likes of Weeds (2005), Dexter (2006), Nurse Jackie (2009) and current hits Homeland, Ray Donovan and Shameless, Showtime has become a force in scripted series.

 

But finding the money to invest in those shows required some belt-tightening. After being named SVP of affiliate and financial operations, Spade realized she would have to make some changes. The sales group, headed by SVP Jeff Wade, had too many people and some streamlining was in order. That’s where the feistier side of Spade’s personality came in handy.

 

“Jeff was a famous character,” Spade said. “He was tough and he was brutal and he liked to yell, a very full-of-life type of guy. I was very pit-bullish: I didn’t take any crap from anybody. As an auditor, you develop a thick skin.”

 

Showtime reorganized the group from 45 workers down to about 20 people, she said, automating some functions and preparing for the next distribution technology, nationwide direct-broadcast satellite.

 

Wade, who died of brain cancer in 2004, became a close friend and mentor for Spade, joining Blank; David Nevins, who is Blank’s successor as CEO; Showtime chief operating officer Tom Christie; and Joe Ianiello, chief operating officer of Showtime parent company CBS Corp., as executives who have helped her pilot her career.

 

The biggest catalyst has been Spade’s own savvy, said Blank. Spade’s financial tutelage has helped push Showtime profit margins in the mid-40% range — one of the highest in the business — by keeping a keen eye on costs as well as allocating funds for new projects.

 

One of those new projects was the Showtime standalone over-the-top service launched last year.

 

Nevins said Spade’s ability to allocate funds to different units when needed was critical to the standalone Showtime service’s successful launch.

 

“The way she balanced that throughout the year, she threaded the needle brilliantly and we’ve built a nine-figure business without denting margins,” Nevins said. “That takes a lot of finesse and execution.”

 

Spade said part of what attracted her to Showtime was the sense of family that pervaded the corporate culture. At no time was that more evident than when Spade was confronted with every parent’s nightmare, the loss of a child.

 

In December 2010, Spade’s 21-month old daughter, Alexandra Tilly Rettler, died after suddenly going into cardiac arrest.

 

“She was perfectly healthy,” Spade said. “We still don’t even know what happened. When you go through something like that, you have to look at every day as a gift.”

 

BUILDING A FOUNDATION

Shortly after, Spade; her husband, Luke Rettler, who heads up the New York County District Attorney’s Public Corruption Unit, and his colleague Eric Snyder set up the Alexandra Tilly Rettler Children’s Foundation, a non-profit organization geared to helping children in need.

 

Starting with a goal of raising $50,000, the foundation has raised more than $200,000 to date. Spade said her Showtime family helped her through that horrific time. “The support here is just amazing,” she said.

 

Spade and Rettler have two sons — Lee, age 10, and Brady, age 5 — and Showtime has enabled her to devote as much time as possible to them.“If my son has a play, I’m going to go to it, and I’ll check in before and after,” she said. “It’s accepted and encouraged. There is a lot of flexibility.”

 

Blank noted Spade’s own perseverance, character and strength.

 

“She has had certain personal challenges of the toughest kind,” he said. “I think those challenges have made her stronger and given her great perspective in everything she does, in terms of how she relates to people, her professional and personal goals. She’s a great mom, with a fantastic family. She’s one of the hardest working people I know. She’s competitive, determined — she hates it when she can’t get something done — and she has great self-awareness. I think she has unlimited potential at Showtime and CBS.”

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