Chairman and chief executive officer, Univision
Born: 1931, in Fresno, California.
Education: University of California, Los Angeles, BA, 1954.
Family: Son of a winemaker (name unknown); married and divorced twice; married (third wife's name unknown); children: three.
Career: Music Corporation of America, 1958–1963, talent agent; 1963–?, independent talent agent; Embassy Communications, ?–1985, partner; Perenchio Television, 1985–1992, partner; Univision, 1992–, chairman and CEO.
Address: Univision, 1999 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 3050, Los Angeles, California 90067; http://www.univision.com.
■ By the 1990s A. Jerrold Perenchio had become one of the richest persons in America, having amassed a fortune worth some $3 billion. His wealth came from many different sources: He was a talent agent in Hollywood in the 1950s and 1960s, representing some of the most well-known movie stars; by the 1970s he was also involved in promoting sporting events. In the 1970s and 1980s he enjoyed great success in the television industry, further increasing his personal wealth. In the 1990s he made a bold and extremely successful move into the Spanish-language television market in the United States—though he did not speak Spanish. Perenchio earned a reputation as an excellent negotiator with a knack for finding the right deals. He was extremely private, never granting interviews and rarely making public appearances.
Perenchio was born in 1931 in Fresno, California, to an Italian winemaker. He graduated from UCLA in 1954 and later served as an Air Force flight instructor. In 1958 he joined
Music Corporation of America (MCA) as a talent agent, becoming the protégé of the Hollywood mogul Lew Wasserman. In 1963 Perenchio formed his own talent agency through which he represented many famous Hollywood actors, including Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor. In 1971 he helped to promote the heavyweight boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, charging U.S. viewers $25 to watch the fight on closed-circuit television, where earlier bouts had cost only $5 to $10.
Perenchio later teamed up with Norman Lear to form Embassy Communications, which played an important role in the television industry; Perenchio also became a key player in syndicated and pay-per-view television. In 1985 he and Lear sold Embassy to Coca-Cola for $485 million. After the sale Perenchio began to look for new investment opportunities, including Spanish-language television in the United States.
In 1992 Perenchio used his Los Angeles–based Perenchio Television to buy a group of television stations—including the Univision Spanish-language network—from Hallmark cards. Univision provided Spanish broadcasts in the United States and was in fact the key to the deal. The network had been founded in 1961 as the Spanish International Network, with most of its financing coming from Emilio Azcarraga, a wealthy Mexican media executive. In 1986 the government claimed that Univision was in violation of foreign ownership rules and forced Azcarraga to sell the network. Perenchio tried to buy Univision at that time, but the asking price was too high, and Hallmark purchased the network instead. Univision performed poorly under Hallmark ownership, however, and the card company decided to sell the station in 1992.
There was some public opposition to the sale because in addition to Perenchio, Azcarraga's Televisa company and the Venezuelan television network Venevison each bought 12.5 percent of Univision. Opponents claimed that Perenchio was simply acting as a front man for the Latin American investors. Yet the Univision president Ray Rodriguez told the Wall Street Journal , "No one has strings on Jerry Perenchio" (August 13, 1999). The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) found no legal violations since Perenchio was a U.S. citizen and the portion of the station owned by foreign investors did not exceed 25 percent. Nevertheless opponents argued that Azcarraga would remain in control of Spanish-language programming in the United States; many U.S. Hispanics feared that if a Mexican network dominated programming, Spanish-language production in the United States would be stifled. The lawyer for the national Hispanic Media Coalition commented in the New York Times , "Once again, the FCC has been duped" (October 1, 1992).
After the purchase Perenchio became the chairman and CEO of Univision, and the network enjoyed great success. Between 1992 and 1998 viewership grew by 14 percent annually—faster than any other network in the country. By 1997 Univision had 1.4 million prime-time viewers, ranking fifth among all networks. In the late 1990s Univision controlled more than 80 percent of the Spanish-language market. Univision's success led to piqued interest in Spanish-language television in the United States; with the Hispanic population growing faster than the general population, major companies were looking for effective opportunities for marketing to Hispanics. Univision was able to deliver a large audience to those advertisers.
Perenchio himself would profit greatly from the purchase. In the original transaction he committed about $50 million; in 1998 he sold only half of his shares in the company for $700 million, after which he still owned 20 percent of Uni-vision and controlled 78.5 percent of the voting shares. Furthermore he remained the chairman and CEO of the network.
Perenchio utilized a list of 20 maxims that he called "road rules" in running Univision. He distributed the rules, which reflected his no-nonsense management style, to all company executives; he especially became associated with the first rule, which the Wall Street Journal reproduced: "Stay clear of the press: no interviews, no panels, no speeches, no comments. Stay out of the spotlight—it fades your suit" (August 13, 1999). Perenchio explained that individual publicity hurt both business and teamwork. He strictly enforced his no-comment rule at Univision; when the president of the network gave an interview to Broadcasting and Cable magazine, Perenchio fined him $25,000.
Some argued that in addition to the reasons Perenchio commonly gave for staying away from the media, he also remained silent because he was not Hispanic and never even learned to speak Spanish. Thus he was perhaps shying away from resentment among the Spanish-speaking community over the fact that Hispanics did not control their own media. Furthermore some Hispanics criticized Perenchio's support of Republican politicians in California who took anti-immigrant stances. In his defense Perenchio also contributed large sums to Democrats; he gave $1.5 million to oppose a proposition that would have ended bilingual education in California.
Following his own rules, Perenchio stayed out of the spotlight. Peter Nolan, the investment banker who once worked with Perenchio, told the Wall Street Journal , "I always tell people that Jerry is the most important guy in Hollywood you've never heard of" (August 13, 1999).
Those who knew or worked with Perenchio described him as intense and persistent. He understood and liked numbers and was detail oriented. He was renowned for relying on his gut instinct—and usually being right; many analysts pointed to the fact that he had managed to enter the Spanish-language market at precisely the right time. One film producer remarked in the Wall Street Journal , "I've never come across anybody who seemed to be so intuitive" (August 13, 1999). Perenchio demanded loyalty and cooperation from all of his employees; in return he established a reputation for paying quite well.
See also entry on Univision Communications Inc. in International Directory of Company Histories .
Andrews, Edmund, "FCC Approves Hallmark's Sale of Univision Network," New York Times , October 1, 1992.
Pollack, Andrew, "The Fight for Hispanic Viewers: Univision's Success Story Attracts New Competition," New York Times , January 19, 1998.
Wartzman, Rick, and Lisa Bannon, "Silent Treatment," Wall Street Journal , August 13, 1999.