Discovery CEO David Zaslav on the Importance of Mentoring

Discovery CEO David Zaslav on the Importance of Mentoring

Do you have a mentor?

It should come as no surprise that co-founder of Jack Welch Management Institute, Jack Welch, has been and continues to be a mentor to many. But, it’s a rare occasion when one can sit on stage with your mentor and speak to an audience about your successes (and failures).

At JWMI’s 2017 commencement, it was with great pride and excitement that Jack bestowed an honorary MBA upon the former chief of NBCUniversal’s cable services employee, David Zaslav, now President and CEO of Discovery Communications.

With honorary MBA in hand, David sat across from his mentor and spoke about the impact professional advisers have on your business career. He described how the simple act of spending time with a mentor, accepting their advice, encouragement and even their critiques helps define how you grow in your career and overcome challenges. Throughout his 30-minute informal chat with Jack, David shared funny and poignant moments that defined his career. Our three favorite nuggets of wisdom are below.


“The perception of who you are gets defined pretty early on in your organization. I worked hard, liked people but wasn’t always the smartest guy,” said David in referencing his earliest experiences working for Jack. David went on to share a story about how he was anticipating an important call and stayed up in the office all night only to fall asleep at 3 am on his office couch and then be woken up by Jack at 6 am. From that point forward, Jack knew David would follow through with any task set out before him. And yes, that important phone call that David was waiting for did eventually come the following day and was a precursor to the launch of the cable network CNBC.

The Written Word (and a lesson from Oprah)

“The written word is very unique”, said David. “The power of the written word, a card, goes a long way because it shows personal attention which is often lost in today’s social media and text focused society. Most of business is about personal connections.”

Personal connections exist outside of the written word as well. One of the lessons David learned from Oprah when the two partnered to launch the OWN network was that everybody wants to be heard. An important lesson when you are in negotiations. You don’t always have to agree with your negotiating partner, but being present and listening will go a long way to making the deal work.

A Positive Environment

“Positive people generate huge energy resulting in more productivity around them. Conversely, negative people are contagious in a bad way,” said David. But let’s face it, you can’t be positive all the time, bad things sometimes happen and when they do, the “greatest gift is delivering bad news fast and looking forward to the next best positive step.” Likewise, you can’t be good at everything. While working for Jack, David was called to his boss’s office on more than one occasion. The lesson: “The trajectory of your success improves when you are self-aware and realize your weakness and can address them.” Jack helped David realize his weaknesses and David works hard to address them every day.

So, what was the takeaway for our JWMI graduates from this conversation between two highly successful leaders?

A great mentor shapes your career; they stoke the flame that drives hard work and perseverance. JWMI graduates know this already, they’ve learned from one of the best, Jack himself. But a mentor is only a portion of the recipe.


Self-evaluation, a positive outlook, and human connection are important ingredients in the recipe for success. In listening to Jack and David speak the one element that resonated was the genuine care and concern they both have for those around them. They actively seek to elevate those who want to be successful. One might incorrectly assume that people as successful as Jack and David would be out of touch with those around them, but the opposite is true. And one didn’t need to look far to see an example. Jack personally shook the hands of 176 graduates as they walked across the stage. And after the commencement? Jack spent two hours chatting with the graduates and their families.

A personal connection might just be the secret ingredient to it all. So, thank you, David and Jack, for sharing your time with us, it was enlightening.

Leave a Reply