When Randy Falco, CEO of Univision Communications since mid-2011, looked at his vast and sprawling company — the multiple networks, the multiple platforms — he knew he needed a way to tie it all together. So, the company created Univision Agency, which oversees $500 million worth of media inventory across its various properties.
To make the agency work, Falco knew he needed someone who is “passionate and has a curiosity, someone with the rare combination of good business sense and creativity.”
To tackle this “tremendous job” — and to also oversee the strategic maximization of all programming decisions across all properties — he knew there was one person he could trust: Jessica Rodriguez.
He based part of his decision to create a new position just for Rodriguez, and to hand her such vast responsibility, partly on her résumé, which touched on various aspects of the company. She had risen from station manager in Puerto Rico to senior vice president of Univision Cable Networks. She had played a critical role in the continued growth of Galavisión, as well as in the launch of three new channels, Univision tlnovelas, (all novelas), Univision Deportes (sports) and ForoTV (Spanish-language news).
UP TO ANY TASK
Another reason for making her the highest-ranking Latina at the leading media company serving Hispanic America, with more than 150 people under her command, was her fearless determination.
“I’m from the Bronx, and she’s a real Bronx girl, so I knew she wouldn’t be afraid of anything,” Falco said.
Rodriguez said when she learned about the new role, “I pushed for it.” In part, that’s because “I believe in the vision of our CEO and I love the company,” she said.
Another part of it is a function of her personality. Rodriguez likes challenges and being kept on her toes and said she takes pride in her ability to multitask .
Growing up in the South Bronx as one in a family of four kids, her father’s sudden death when Rodriguez was just 15 thrust her into responsibility. “I had to co-parent with my mom and help translate the rest of world into Spanish from English for her,” Rodriguez recalled. “I really had to step up to the plate.”
That’s not to say Rodriguez didn’t have people looking out for her. In fifth grade, a teacher spotted her musical ability and encouraged her to study the flute. More significantly, in eighth grade, a guidance counselor recognized her combination of brains and ambition and steered her to Townsend Harris High School, an elite competitive public school in Queens.
“That changed my life,” Rodriguez said. The counselor’s belief in her showed that it paid off “if you put in the time and put in the effort and raise your hand and pushed beyond the call of duty.”
Rodriguez always loved television. She came of age in an era when the English-language primetime schedule was full of shows not unlike novelas, such as Dallas and Dynasty.
She especially loved Univision. “We would all gather around the television and watch Univision with my mom and dad,” she said. It helped bring together her parents, who spoke Spanish, and the children, who spoke Spanish at home but English out in the world.
She was even intrigued by the business of programming early on. While in junior high school, she looked in the Daily News each week to check out Nielsen’s top-rated shows. “I can’t explain where that came from,” she said. “I didn’t know anybody who was a media executive.”
The idea of a TV career seemed foreign to everyone in her family. “That wasn’t an option,” she said.
Rodriguez, who attended Fordham University, had always been good with numbers and went on to success as an investment banker. That was the type of job people in her community could be proud of, especially for the first college graduate in the family.
But it wasn’t her dream. “It was not bringing joy into my life.”
She wanted to at least be involved in improving her community, so Rodriguez went to work for the government-backed Empowerment Zone designed to help revitalize Harlem. (She still gives back, developing a women’s mentoring group at Univision and serving as a commissioner on Healthy Media: Commission for Positive Images of Women and Girls.)
But she still hoped for a career in media, and pursued her MBA at Stanford University. “I had to take the risk,” she said.
There, fortune smiled upon her. She saw that Univision Television Group president Michael Wortsman was making his first visit to the campus. So, while everyone else was strolling around in shorts, Rodriguez donned a suit “and stalked” him.
Her initiative earned her a summer internship in Los Angeles, and her performance there led to a job helping launch Univision’s Puerto Rico station. When Univision needed someone to plunge into programming, Rodriguez raised her hand.
‘IT’S A COMMUNITY’
Building a station from the ground up accelerated her learning curve, she believes, and it also helped her climb the ladder at Univision.
“She’s one of the most talented individuals at the company,” Tonia O’Connor, president, content distribution and corporate business development for Univision Communications, said. “She has the whole left-brain/right-brain thing going. She’s whip-smart and she’s a TV junkie, with knowledge of the industry that goes beyond just our audience. She’s also one of the most selfless executives I’ve ever known.”
Rodriguez finds that if you are accountable and giving, “people pay it back.” That sentiment is fitting, because to her, Univision “is more than a network, it’s a community,” she said. “People call us looking for the best doctor or with questions about immigration.”
“I grew up on this network and I want to make it a better company for the next generation of Latinos.”
TITLE: Executive Vice President, Program Scheduling & Promotions, Univision Communications
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Senior VP, Univision Cable Networks; Station Manager, WLII-TV (Univision Puerto Rico). Current job created for Rodriguez, putting her in charge of $500 million of media inventory, in addition to her role in programming.
QUOTABLE: “I always approach every day at work like I’m on a job interview.”