This is a milestone for the company, and the cable industry. John Hendricks is one of the business’ most influential programming pioneers, and possibly the most authentic and humble media mogul I ever met. He will retire both as chairman of the Discovery board and from the board itself after the annual meeting May 16. “Few words can appropriately convey what kind of person John is, or what he has meant to this company and the cable television industry overall,” CEO David Zaslav says. “He is a true visionary, a man of enormous integrity and one of the world’s great entrepreneurs.” A native of West Virginia but raised in Alabama, Hendricks founded Discovery in 1985 — inspired by his interest in documentaries, and a desire to create a company in the young but promising cable industry. It was a novel, and risky, venture but succeeded with timely support from CBS newsman Walter Cronkite, banker Herb Allen, and cable exec John Malone. Hendricks ran the non-fiction cable channel and company as CEO until 2004. In the 1990s, a time when cable consisted of analog signals, he was one of the first to promote niche-oriented digital networks. In 2002, he made Discovery HD Theater the first 24/7 HD channel on basic cable. In a letter to the board today he says that he plans to “spend the next few years traveling the planet and discovering the questions and mysteries that intrigue us all.” He also will focus on a new enterprise: Curiosity Project, which will sponsor Curiosity Retreats and the online Curiosity Club. The goal is “to nurture our natural human curiosity in a very substantial way. I am committed to building a lifelong learning academy operating within the private sector that offers deep dives into our curious questions about science, technology, civilization, and the human spirit.”
Here’s the complete farewell letter:
My thanks to all of you on the Board of Directors for supporting my request for early retirement effective with the Annual Meeting of the Shareholders on May 16, 2014. This year marks my 32nd year (nearly a third of century!) of service as Chairman of the Board and as an executive of the company.
Ten years ago in 2004, I decided it was just the right time for me to step down as CEO. Now, 10 years later, with Discovery on such a strong growth path under David’s able leadership and a strong Board of Directors, I likewise feel this is the perfect time to depart from the Board and from my role as Chairman and as an executive of the company. For over three decades now, I have somewhat envied the legions of documentarians that we have employed who have traveled the world to bring great stories and experiences to our viewers. It is now finally time for me to go exploring! I plan to spend the next few years traveling the planet and discovering the questions and mysteries that intrigue us all. And, as you all know, I want to find a compelling way through inperson retreats and online learning initiatives to nurture our natural human curiosity in a very substantial way. I am committed to building a lifelong learning academy operating within the private sector that offers deep dives into our curious questions about science, technology, civilization, and the human spirit. So, please wish me luck in the years ahead as I implement Curiosity Retreats and the online Curiosity Club through my new company, Curiosity Project, LLC, that I publicly announced last month on February 10.
I wanted to share with all of you on the Board of Directors my warm and grateful thoughts for making these past 3 decades of Discovery such an incredibly marvelous and rewarding adventure. Because of your steadfast support for the company I founded on September 8, 1982, Discovery has achieved enormous impact and scale all across the planet. It has truly been a team effort.
I, of course, have to give special thanks to several great people. Herbert Allen, Paul Gould, and others at Allen & Company were the very first to believe in the dreams of this entrepreneur and they led my initial round of financing in 1985. Their efforts produced the critical startup funding that got the Discovery Channel transmitting on satellite on June 17, 1985. The next and most consequential round of financing was led in 1986 by none other than cable pioneers, John Malone and Bob Miron, who have proved to be the most intelligent and reliable partners an entrepreneur could possibly have. For 28 years, John and Bob have been extraordinary board leaders and shareholders who have guided Discovery through spectacular years of growth…and they still do so today with a wisdom and integrity that I believe is unmatched in world business. And finally, I want to thank the sensational David Zaslav who made one of my greatest wishes come true when he accepted the CEO post at Discovery in 2007. What followed was an unparalleled growth record in the global media industry as David masterminded the amazing journey of our company’s growth in markets worldwide and in the creation of an incredible array of new content offerings that are today satisfying the entertainment and information needs of well over a billion consumers worldwide. And through all the expansion, David has been a careful steward of the Discovery brand and he has continually increased Discovery’s investment in quality content year after year. Under David’s energetic and brilliant leadership, I am convinced that the best of Discovery is yet to come.
What gives me such special joy on this occasion are the thousands of Discovery employees across the planet who work every day to bring enlightenment and entertainment into the hearts and minds of our viewers. Discovery employees are truly making a difference in the world. Because they labor to achieve excellence and meaning in everything they do, their contributions to a more educated and
informed planet will be their lasting legacy. The people of Discovery are a special breed. Their passion for the brand mission is absolutely contagious and was a source of constant inspiration for me over the last 32 years.
Maureen and I have given a lot of thought to constructing this next exciting chapter in our lives. Please know that we are both deeply and forever grateful to all of you for your support, kindness, and good cheer throughout the years. You are the people who made a dream come true.
With best wishes and gratitude, I am
Founder and Chairman