Hard Choices

Gustavo A. Cisneros on Buying Univision


By 1992, I wanted to be in the U.S. market on a big scale. I thought the telenovelas and programming we'd developed in Venezuela could do very well in the U.S., but no one believed me. People thought Hispanics in the U.S. were different and that you had to make TV productions there to capture the experience. Not only was that an expensive proposition, but I didn't think it was true.

Then Univision came up for sale, which was exciting and risky. I had a deep friendship with Mexican entrepreneur Emilio Azcárraga Milmo, who had failed in the U.S. market and was itching to get back. Neither of us had enough programming to fill a network, so we decided to join forces. But to satisfy the FCC, we needed an American partner. I introduced Emilio to Jerry Perenchio, who owned a Spanish channel in New York. Unfortunately, they just didn't get along. I had to convince Emilio to like Jerry and Jerry to like Emilio. Jerry wanted to work with only me, but I told him it had to be a trio.

There was so much mistrust going into this that I knew something might fall apart. It was a $500 million bet, and a lot of people had lost money in Hispanic TV. To make this work we had to have strong legal documents: Our lawyers outlined everything so that it didn't matter if we liked each other or not. We had to ensure a governance structure to keep the playing field level, and I felt we needed to be very specific about the management of the company. The two of us who had provided programming had to have our additional contributions recognized. Everything was clear, so nobody had to argue or debate.

The biggest risk was reputational. If we had blown it here, it would have been a worldwide disaster. If you fail in China or India, it's a local thing, but the U.S. market is so important. Although Emilio died in 1997, the partnership stayed together until we sold Univision for $12 billion in 2007. It was a gut decision when we bought, and I knew in my gut when it was time to sell. The relationship between my partners was never warm, but they learned to respect each other—a good partnership.


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