spirit continues to feed Frank Batten's success
By Carol Wood
Batten never considered playing it safe and merely tending his
uncle's business when he took charge. Publishing two healthy,
competitive newspapers that rolled off the presses side by side
in Norfolk would have been enough for most folks. Batten, instead,
rolled the dice and started making investments, first in people,
then in expansion. Additional newspapers plus a couple of radio
and television stations gave him a firm hold in the communications
business. Frank Batten had vision long before it became an industry
buzzword. [See Alumnus
Frank Batten Sr. gives $58 million to Darden entrepreneurial institute]
have been a number of driving forces in Frank Batten's life: communications,
education and ethics top the list.
the first, communications, he dedicated his more public side as
he built a successful private media company, Landmark Communications
Inc.; to the second, education, he dedicated his civic side as
he endeavored to change lives through learning. The third, ethics,
he made sure ran through everything he did.
communications company is a solid business known for its fiscal
soundness, willingness to take risks, and ethical practices. In
the early days of The Weather Channel there was some cause for
concern within the company, even some not-so-gentle cynicism.
Batten decided the start-up was a risk worth sticking with --
despite the jibes and low profit margins. "I remember when
the world thought we were goofy to program 24 hours of non-stop
weather," Batten said in a talk to his managers years later.
The Weather Channel now reaches more than 72 million U.S. homes.
He has focused on education in his community leadership: Batten
became the first rector of Old Dominion University in Norfolk;
served stints on the boards of the College of William and Mary
and Hollins College; and was vice chairman of Virginia's State
Council of Higher Education. Ten years ago, he founded with fellow
U.Va. alumnus Joshua P. Darden a financial aid program for high
school students in Hampton Roads. In addition, Batten became the
driving force and namesake behind the entrepreneurial leadership
center at Darden.
he received his MBA from Harvard -- "In two years at Harvard,
I gained about 10 years' experience. A graduate business education
is critical to developing a first-rate business, especially in
today's economy," he says -- it is to Darden's future that
Batten is committed.
it was Harvard that nurtured his business acumen, it was the University
of Virginia, where he received his undergraduate degree, to which
he was tied -- by family and lifelong friends. And it was in his
home state that he decided to operate and expand his businesses
as well as to test his entrepreneurial business philosophy.
Batten did not stop learning when he received his MBA, but made
Landmark, his media company, a laboratory for entrepreneurial
thinking. It was there that he brought in promising managers to
help build the company and plan its future. Landmark became a
place for young visionaries to experiment with new ideas and to
succeed -- or even to fail -- in these new ventures. It was a
revolutionary way of thinking for a mid-sized media company plopped
down in coastal Virginia.
has come to learn that, to be a success in business, you must
think creatively and move faster than the proverbial speeding
bullet. And not necessarily dodge it. "Not everything we
have done has been a winner," he once explained to Landmark
managers. "But failures, in an odd way, are a mark of success
in an innovator as long as they are not too big or too many. At
the root of successful innovation is a willingness to take intelligent
also has come to realize that entrepreneurial thinking is a must
within any successful company.
of our most successful enterprises have been entrepreneurial,"
Batten says, referring to his early venture into the cable business.
"We got into cable before most people knew what cable was."
years later he sold the privately held and carefully managed TeleCable
to TCI for an undisclosed, but healthy sum.
have to get more interested in the future. There's such a rush
of competition and technological change that nobody's markets
are secure," Batten says. "Every time you blink, there's
a new product. ... There's no doubt that the risk of failure is
greater than it has ever been, but the speed of change and the
onset of technology has allowed new competition to invade the
space of established businesses."
leads to why Batten thinks an institute for entrepreneurial leadership
is so important: "Entrepreneurial thinking will be the most
critical skill a manager will have to master to be successful."