Network CEO Shares Management Secrets: Lunch and a Lot of Talking

A man and woman sit on chairs in conversation, in front of an audience.
Kristin Dolan ’88, chief executive officer of AMC Networks, joins UAlbany President Havidán Rodríguez for the seventh annual Massry Lecture on Friday, April 19, 2024. (Photo by Patrick Dodson)

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 23, 2023) — Early last year, Kristin Dolan ’88 became chief executive officer of AMC Networks, the New York-based entertainment company where she started her career as an intern more than 30 years ago. Last week, Dolan returned to campus as the featured speaker at UAlbany’s seventh annual Massry Lecture, conducted at the newly named Massry School of Business.

During the lecture — which took the form of an engaging conversation with UAlbany President Havidán Rodríguez — Dolan shared her thoughts about an industry in transition from traditional cable television to streaming, the challenges in managing multigenerational employees in the wake of a pandemic, her own UAlbany experience, and her career progression.

AMC Networks is a global entertainment company home to popular and critically acclaimed television shows and films including “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “Better Call Saul” and “The Walking Dead.”

But even while helping reinvent how entertainment is delivered to viewers, Dolan sticks to workplace basics she has learned in a multidimensional business career that spans more than three decades. Talk to co-workers at all levels and in all places – including in the elevator on the way to the office. Learn what colleagues do by seeing them do it. And hold monthly staff lunches, designated by birthday, not department or rank, to build community.  

“Treat everyone respectfully by treating everyone the same,” Dolan told an audience of almost 200 students, faculty and local business leaders. 

Watch the full video of the 7th annual Massry Lecture here

This year’s Massry Lecture was bookended by tributes to the namesake family that has endowed the speaker series and strengthened the school of business through their philanthropy. Three generations of the family were on hand for the event. Norman Massry movingly described attending a very different “Massry School of Business,” where he learned valuable lessons from his father, Morris, and watched his hardworking parents count the daily receipts in their store to ensure they had enough to open the next day.

Dolan, who exchanged texts with her former classmates just before the lecture, had similarly humble beginnings. Like the Massry family, she remains engaged with UAlbany. She sponsors a scholarship for promising first year students from the New York City area, mentors students and serves on UAlbany’s Advancement Advisory Council. She praised both her top-level public education and the fact that it was within reach thanks to grants, loans and a job at Crossgates Mall. 

After transferring from a college near her home on Long Island, she declared a major in computer science, then accounting, followed by economics, ultimately graduating in 1988 as an English major with a business minor. Her left-brain, right-brain education, she said, suited her love of literature and love of organization. 

After starting her career at Rainbow Media, the company that would go on to become AMC Networks, she spent 16 years at Cablevision Systems Corporation in various roles, ultimately serving as chief operating officer overseeing more than 17,000 employees. Dolan got to know the installers on the road, the customer service representatives in the call centers as well as executives in corner offices. Ultimately, she helped oversee Cablevision’s $17.7 billion sale in 2016 to Altice USA. She then founded and served as CEO of 605, an innovative audience measurement and data analytics firm. 

Becoming AMC Networks CEO in February 2023 was a return to the place where her post-UAlbany career began. Now she is focused on building a strong company culture in the wake of the pandemic and seismic shifts in media and entertainment that have required companies like AMC Networks to forge strong relationships with customers and viewers as well as distributors.

Gone are the days of “creating beautiful things and sending them up to a satellite,” said Dolan. “Now we need to bring in subscribers. We need to talk to them, service them, answer phone calls and do it in an entirely different technology and get our people to think in an entirely different way.” 

She continues to invest in workplace culture by talking to colleagues across departments, accommodating their individual needs and offering opportunities to retool and adapt. Another challenge, she joked, is asking a generation of employees accustomed to communicating by email to interact with colleagues that rely on Slack. 

After 14 months as CEO, she sees progress, thanks to her strong leadership team and the flexibility and dedication of her colleagues. She trusts them to do their jobs, focuses on the strategic direction of the business and weighs in on individual items as needed. 

Asked by President Rodríguez for a final piece of advice for the students in the audience just embarking on their own careers, Dolan spoke of the importance of relationships and trusting yourself.

“Pay attention to the relationships that you have or the relationships that you’re cultivating, close the loop, make time for people, trust yourself. Don’t be afraid to make a bad choice, just make a choice,” she said. “In business and the liberal arts you just really have to be open to experiences and then trust your gut and make choices and if it doesn’t feel right, then make a change. Because life is long and these things that feel like huge decisions in the moment, in hindsight you’ll be like, ‘I sweated that so bad and it really wasn’t that big a deal in the end.’”