David Calhoun never stops thinking about what's next for Nielsen Featured

11:44pm EDT January 30, 2014
David Calhoun, executive chairman, Nielsen Co. David Calhoun, executive chairman, Nielsen Co.

David L. Calhoun gives a lot of credit to the people who led Nielsen Co. as cable TV was becoming prevalent.

“There was a day when the broadcast guys owned everything,” Calhoun says, referring to the big three networks of ABC, CBS and NBC. “And these guys in the cable world start cropping up. The broadcast guys said, ‘Don’t you dare mention them. I don’t want to compete with them.’”

Despite the threat, Nielsen did its job because measuring what consumers watch and buy is what the company does in more than 100 countries around the world.

“You can never fall short of measuring total consumption,” says Calhoun, the former CEO and current executive chairman at Nielsen. “If I do, I’m dead. If I don’t, I’m very much alive and my advantage gets bigger.”

Calhoun was part of a panel discussion at the EY Strategic Growth Forum® in Palm Springs, Calif., in November. He talked about how Nielsen has changed, globalization and the best advice he ever received.


Q. What is something people might not know about Nielsen?

A. We’re one of the lone representatives in measurement that has to point out the under-represented populations in this country and how poorly they are served. We have to go out to the politicians, go out to the communities and make sure our services cover the African-American, the Hispanic, the Asian-American populations. We do it and we work really hard at it. 

Then we go to our clients and try to teach them how to market better to this crowd. That’s a secret nobody knows, but it’s very important to our people. In China, we sit with the government, and we sit every quarter. We do everything in our power to suggest policies that will stimulate domestic demand because in China, that’s the key to their future.

They’ve been an export-dependent country and if they can’t move quickly on stimulating that demand, they get in trouble. So they work us hard. I wish this government worked us as hard.


Q. What does someone fresh out of college need to know in today’s world?

A. Take a trip overseas and immerse yourself in the emerging world, not the developed world. It’s fun to go to France and enjoy Paris. On the other hand, it’s not going to help you much. China, Africa — it opens your eyes and it gives you more confidence in where the world will ultimately get.

It’s all about the development of your own self-confidence. Every one of us, we start with a training program or something that gives us a little bit of confidence. As soon as we feel like we got it, we’re ready to do the next thing. We carry anxieties with us and you can’t postpone dealing with those anxieties.

When you’re confident, you can pretty much do anything. Not arrogant, confident. No one knows your anxieties. So you have to be out there with them and you have to deal with them right away. We all have them. Every single one of us. You have to be honest with yourself.


Q. What’s the best advice you ever received?

A. When I left GE, the advice I got from my former chair Mr. (Jack) Welch and a friend on our board, A.G. Lafley. They said, ‘In our tenure, the only thing we can really believe stuck, and the thing that created the most value, were values.’

So every six years, Jack tried to twist his values a little bit to refresh them and drive them. They just said, ‘If you can instill some values that the company can rally around, everything else will take care of itself.’

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