Chief executive officer, HIT Entertainment
Born: 1967, in Kent, England.
Family: Married; children: one.
Career: Video Arts Television, 1986–1989, runner, chief accountant; HIT Entertainment, 1989–, various positions, including director of finance, director of corporate development, commercial director, and chief executive officer.
Address: HIT Entertainment, Maple House, 149 Tottenham Court Road, London, W1T 7NF, England; http://www.hitentertainment.biz/hit/index.jsp.
■ In 2001 Robert Lawes became chief executive officer (CEO) of the British media company HIT Entertainment, producer of popular children's programs. As CEO he oversaw several strategic acquisitions, increasing HIT's programming holdings to include children's favorites such as Thomas the Tank Engine and Barney & Friends . Lawes also helped the company evolve from a purely distribution-driven enterprise into one of the leading children's programming producers in the world.
Rob Lawes grew up in Kent, England. Admittedly a dreamer, he skipped college and instead took a job working in the office of Video Arts Television, the production company partly owned by the comedian John Cleese. When the company began to expand rapidly, Lawes offered to take over as the company's chief accountant. "My biggest altitude sickness came when I went from office junior to chief accountant at age 18," he recalled to License! Europe .
In 1989 Lawes received a call from Peter Orton, formerly of the Jim Henson Company. Orton was developing a new television distribution company called Henson International Television (HIT), and he asked Lawes if he would like to be part of the organization. Lawes agreed and took on the dual roles of financial controller and company secretary. Over the next few years he held several positions within HIT, including director of finance, director of corporate development, and commercial director.
As HIT grew, the number of television-content providers diminished, hitting HIT's distribution business hard. So Lawes began to push his company into the creative arena. He oversaw the development of HIT's in-house animation studio, HOT Animation. He helped negotiate some of the company's most popular and profitable program acquisitions, including the cartoon show Angelina Ballerina , and he helped HIT get the financial backing it needed from the investment community.
At the end of 2000 HIT entered into a deal with the Dallas-based Lyrick Studios, producer of the popular children's show Barney & Friends , to distribute HIT programs in the United States. A few months later Lawes traveled to the United States to oversee the $275 million acquisition of Lyrick. Lawes used the Lyrick acquisition to bring the HIT show Bob the Builder to kids in America. He also purchased Pingu the Penguin that year to add to HIT's rapidly growing array of children's characters.
In June 2001 the then 34-year-old Lawes took over as CEO when HIT's founder, Peter Orton, promoted himself to non-executive chairman. Lawes, an admittedly young CEO, avoided criticism concerning his age because of his longevity with the company. The following year Lawes created one of the world's biggest television empires when he bought rival Gullane Entertainment, creator of the popular Thomas the Tank Engine series, for $210 million. In 2003 HIT added the Rubberdubbers , an animated show about bathroom toys, to its lineup. Bob the Builder continued its strong run, broadcasting to millions of viewers in 140 countries. With its shows gaining popularity in the United States and abroad, HIT's profits and stock prices rose sharply.
Lawes forged ahead, committed to transforming HIT from a small distributor into a premiere producer of children's programming. He also focused more attention on merchandising the company's consumer products. Character-based books, videos, and other products would eventually account for more than 90 percent of the company's annual sales. Lawes kept a close watch on the performance of all HIT shows. When Barney & Friends saw a drop in its audience share and merchandise sales, Lawes launched an aggressive advertising campaign to bring the giant purple dinosaur back to life.
HIT began 2004 on a down note, with sluggish sales and lower stock prices, which Lawes blamed on a weak dollar and a lackluster response to Bob the Builder and Barney & Friends in the United States. But Lawes had several plans up his sleeve. He planned to re-energize the Bob the Builder brand through toy franchise partnerships, new products, and innovative story lines. He began to develop a new business model to increase HIT's efficiency, segmenting the organization into individual divisions by brand, and a new children's network to rival those owned by Disney, Viacom, and Time Warner.
See also entry on HIT Entertainment PLC in International Directory of Company Histories .
Eisenberg, Daniel, "2002 Global Influentials: Rob Lawes, CEO of HIT Entertainment," Time , http://www.time.com/time/2002/globalinfluentials/gbilawes.html .
Freedman, Michael, "Child's Play?" Forbes , December 22, 2003, p. 210.
Phillips, Sam, "Rob Lawes," License! Europe , January 5, 2003, http://www.license-europe.com/licenseeurope/article/articleDetail.jsp?id=58838&pageID=1 .