Nick Davatzes will receive 2014 Bill Bresnan Ethics in Business Award

Nick Davatzes, a Wilton resident and chief executive officer emeritus of A&E Networks, will be honored as the recipient of the 2014 Bill Bresnan Ethics in Business Award on April 29.

The former A&E Networks chief, who now works in a strictly advisory role with the television company, was selected as this year’s recipient for his innovative approach to television and his status as a respected leader in the industry, said Glenn Britt, chairman of the Bresnan Award selection committee.

“Nick has been at the forefront of so many innovations to the cable industry,” he said. “He has been a respected leader in our industry for many years, and is dedicated to contributing to his community through numerous philanthropic activities.”

As for himself, Mr. Davatzes said at his home Tuesday that, as a personal friend of the award’s namesake, he was humbled by the announcement.

“I am very humbled that I was nominated. Bill Bresnan was a beloved person in our industry,” he said.

“He conducted business in an ethical way, he respected people, listened to people, and was very philanthropic in helping charitable institutions.”

After telling a story about a trip he took with Mr. Bresnan and their wives to Italy, he said he had fond memories of his old acquaintance.

“He was a fabulous man with an excellent Irish sense of humor. The industry was right in honoring him with this award, because he walked the walk, and talked the talk,” he said.

When compared to other honors he has received in his life, including the National Humanities Medal, Mr. Davatzes said this landed among the highest.

“In my life I have had a number of honors given to me. This is right up there at the top.”

Mr. Davatzes also said he was honored to follow in the footsteps of the award’s previous winners, whom he referred to as a great collection of men.

“To walk in the footsteps of Bill Miron (Bright House Networks), Alan Gerry (Cablevision) and Brian Lamb (C-Span) is pretty humbling to me. They did a lot in their lives, and all of it was good,” he said.

Business philosophy

Mr. Davatzes, who took over control of A&E Networks in 1983, said his personal success in business, and the ethical approach he took toward it, could be attributed to a number of different experiences throughout his life.

When taking over as head of A&E, he offered as an example, he had to remember it was “important to know what you didn’t know.”

Before becoming the company’s CEO, he admittedly had little experience or knowledge of the creative process involved in television production.

“What I didn’t know was the creative process. Other than being a customer of cable television, I knew what the consumers were interested in and not interested in,” he said.

So he evaluated what the company currently had to offer and “was able to fundamentally add pieces to the management team,” rather than replacing every member of the network team.

“We had a fantastic run,” he said “We created new channels like Biography, History, History 2, Crime & Investigation, and started an international operation in 150 countries around the world.”

In terms of ethics, Mr. Davatzes said it was important to have a strong family, and a strong team to help keep one’s moral compass “in check,” but that intuition is equally important.

“The people you love and the people you work with help you keep your moral compass,” he said. “Its almost always intuitive — you almost always know when it’s right, and you almost always know when it’s wrong.”

Selecting a good team, Mr. Davatzes said, involves not only finding competent people but providing an environment in which they can  succeed. He believes a good company must reward risk, whether or not it leads to success.

“If you’re running a business, your first obligation is to find competent people, and then figure out what makes them run. After a reasonable period of time you will find out what makes them run,” he said. “Then you create an environment where someone can say, ‘I don’t agree with you for this reason.’

“There is risk taking for innovation, but allowing risk taking on the human resources side means you [as a boss] must be comfortable in your own skin,” he said. “If you don’t feel that, it will be very hard to be a good leader.”