New Univision Networks president embodies future

MIAMI – When Cesar Conde walks into a room, his youthful looks and earnest countenance have at times led people to confuse the trim executive with an intern.

But such confusion is increasingly rare. The 35-year-old was tapped last month to head Univision Networks, the most prominent holding of Univision Communications Inc. — the nation's largest Spanish-language media empire. Its signature network regularly ranks fifth among all broadcast and cable networks, English or Spanish.

Conde, who takes over Oct. 1, is the Miami-born son of Peruvian and Cuban immigrants who came to the U.S. "with absolutely nothing except for the spare change and the clothes they had on their back," according to their son. He is also a Harvard graduate with an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania, embodying not only the immigrant dream but also the network's future — including second- and third-generation Hispanics drawn to the network because of cultural, as well as language ties.

It is his Gen X ability to move from talk of political empowerment to market statistics to the company's latest reality TV offerings that makes Conde such a force in shaping the future of one of the nation's fastest growing networks.

Former Secretary of State Gen. Colin L. Powell, whom Conde served as a White House Fellow from 2002 to 2003, said he quickly noticed something special about the young businessman.

"It was clear to me that he had great potential," Powell said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "I believe a person's early accomplishments are an important signal of their future success, and Cesar has had many of them. His sense of purpose and maturity allow him to lead by bringing out the best in those around him despite his young age."

Univision, and Spanish-language media in general, have long embraced advocacy journalism providing a "we're on your side" ethos for its audience, but Conde is part of a new leadership looking to expand the tradition.

"Our goal is to inform, entertain and empower the Hispanic community," Conde recently told the AP from his new Miami offices. "But it's that third one, of empowerment, that I feel can really solidify our unique connection with our audience."

With the support of Univision CEO Joe Uva, Conde pushed for the first Sunday morning news talk show, "Al Punto" or "To the Point." He also backed the nation's first Spanish-media presidential candidate debate.

"We wanted to ensure that the Hispanic electorate was able to hear their voices on Election Day," explained Conde. "Both Democrat and Republican candidates spoke directly to the Hispanic community about issues of importance to the Hispanic community. They weren't speaking about the Hispanic community. It's a subtle but important difference."

Conde was also instrumental in Univision's "Ya es hora Now is the time" citizenship campaign along with National Association of Hispanic Elected and Appointed Officials and other groups. He is now helping to coordinate the second phase of the campaign to ensure Hispanics are counted in the 2010 census.

Besides the signature Univision network, Conde also oversees the company's cable channel Galavision, and its smaller network, TeleFutura.

Uva, who has been a mentor to Conde, said it was his leadership abilities, his analytical skills and that uncanny maturity that made him ideal for the job.

There is another benefit Conde brings. With the recent retirement of Univision President Ray Rodriguez, the company lacked a Hispanic in its most senior corporate offices. Neither Uva, nor Univision's majority investor Haim Saban, is Latino, nor for that matter is the CEO of rival Telemundo, Don Browne.

NALEO Executive Director Arturo Vargas says Conde's unassuming manner can fool those who have yet to hear him speak.

"He walks in and you think he must be someone's intern, and then he blows you away," Vargas said. Vargas recalled complaining to Conde after learning Univision did not plan to air one of the last presidential debates between Barack Obama and John McCain.

After the conversation, the debate aired live.

"We are a social-cultural political force, and one who hasn't grown up speaking Spanish or one that hasn't grown up in the Hispanic community, finds it a little hard to understand," he said.

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