Faces of Modern Leadership: Mark G. Contreras

Kira Ciccarelli
The Faces of Modern Leadership series spotlights rising directors who are part of Diligent’s Modern Leadership initiative, a network of nearly 700,000 CEOs, board directors and executives. Modern Leadership aims to impact diversity, equity and inclusion at more than 25,000 organizations worldwide, dedicated to building the largest, most diverse pool of highly qualified directors and executives in the world.   Mark G. Contreras, President and Chief Executive Officer of Connecticut Public Broadcasting, has led several media businesses through digital transformation. Prior to his role as Dean of the School of Communications at Quinnipiac University, Contreras served as CEO of Calkins Media, a privately-held media company, which developed innovative strategies to maximize audience reach, engagement and revenue by embracing streaming media platforms such as Roku, Amazon Fire and Apple TV. He has previously served in top volunteer leadership roles of news media organizations including the News Media Association and the American Press Institute, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of GFR Media in San Juan, Puerto Rico and Woodward Communications, Inc in Dubuque, Iowa.

Backstory: Leading Through Digital Disruption

Mark Contreras has been operating media organizations in executive leadership positions across the U.S. since 1995, picking up experience presenting in board meetings and to Wall Street analysts. In 2017, Mark decided to take his media operations skills and pay it forward by becoming Dean of Communications at Quinnipiac University. Now, he’s the President and Chief Executive of Connecticut Public, which broadcasts NPR and PBS for Connecticut with local content and other digital opportunities. Through his experiences, Mark has become well-versed in volatility and business demands. “Most of the work I’ve done over the last 30 years has revolved around leading organizations through digital disruption,” he says. When looking at the most valuable characteristics today’s businesses should have to stay ahead of the curve, Mark stresses adaptability and strategic decision-making: “The degree to which you can adapt, take risk, and cannibalize your existing business model is key.”

The Secret Sauce for Success

Throughout Mark’s professional endeavors, he’s held onto one core quality that makes him the leader he is today: a sense of humor. “Try to add humor to your organizations. Life’s too short, and you should have some fun,” he says. Mark is also a strong believer in autonomy and giving people decision-making room. “Even though I’m the one who’s ultimately responsible, the most enticing incentive you can give to ambitious people is autonomy.” When looking at his cumulative expertise, Mark reflects that the fact he is still actively running an organization gives him unique, fresh perspectives. “I can bring to a boardroom very current experiences. The internet has affected your business in some way, no matter what; I can share my experience guiding organizations through digital disruption with boards who are in need of that insight.” Another major ingredient for success that Mark always turns to is creating environments where businesses have space to take risks and try new things. “You have to be willing to take a risk and stop something if it doesn’t work,” he explains.

Thoughts on Diversity and Digital Transformation

As conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion continue to gain momentum, boardrooms are being asked to respond beyond just ‘checking a box’. Mark cites lack of gender and ethnic diversity as key indicators of poor performance. “If you don’t have gender and ethnic diversity, you’re going to miss opportunities that you wouldn’t get with your traditional board members. Some of the best decisions we’ve made have come from board discussions that were the results of getting different perspectives and a different path to investing.” Regardless of where an organization is in its efforts to embrace and increase diversity, Mark posits that it’s going to be challenging – but the benefits far outweigh any discomforts: “In general, most board discussions that I’ve been a part of are not rubber stamp sessions. They involve deep engagement on the part of the director. Often the biggest benefit of the board is for those management teams to hear from different types of people. For that reason alone, you need diversity. It gets uncomfortable…the leader truly has to embrace this. There are plenty of options for diverse directors all over the country, and yet the numbers remain abysmally low. Three percent of publicly traded companies have Latinos on their boards.” As real change is still gathering traction in the diversity arena, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital transformation across all types of businesses. As Mark puts it, “COVID required us to make six years’ worth of decisions in six months.” In thinking about what the future of work entails, Mark’s leadership at Connecticut Public has been integral to business continuity: “We couldn’t miss a beat. We had to invest in the right technology to allow people to broadcast out of their homes. All of this happened in eight to ten weeks. We continue to wrestle with the fallout from that in terms of when and how we’re going to get back to the office,” he says.

A Passion for Local Journalism

With years of commercial media experience under his belt, in more recent years Mark has developed a passion for public media, finding joy and daily challenges in his current day job at Connecticut Public. “The mission of public media is to serve communities. I was in commercial media for decades, but this is a nonprofit. I got into this business primarily because I got infected with this love for local journalism,” says Mark. Looking ahead, Mark reflects that he’d love to become a member of a public company board and better understand the path to that. “It’s the last murky process left in American business.”