The “four R’s” to success

Alumna, TV executive gives commencement address, receives honorary degree

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By Jennifer Sobolewski

Eileen O’Neill ’90 said she can trace her enormous success to the “four R’s”—relationships, responsibility, risk taking and working “really, really hard.” O’Neill, the brains behind such hit shows as “19 Kids and Counting” and “The Little Couple,” truly paid her dues to reach her current position of Global Group President of Discovery Studios. O’Neill was the BGSU commencement speaker Dec. 20 and also received an honorary doctorate.

She started at Discovery Communications as an unpaid intern while earning a graduate degree in popular culture from the University. She was hired by DCI’s networks operation department immediately upon graduation.

“Looking back over 25 years I can honestly say there is no task too small that hasn’t some how made me a better leader now,” O’Neill said. “Having been the first ‘tape librarian’ at Discovery I had no idea the mundane tasks of trafficking tapes to editors or vendors would make me realize years later I had a head start on knowing key producers, or how my decision to air or pull a show would impact a maze of people.”

O’Neill told the students that in a world attached to devices, it’s still human contact and relationships that will truly be a key part of their success.

She told the story of her 20-year-old relationship with a favorite producer. While O’Neill hadn’t worked with him since they first met, they continued to stay in touch.

“One day I got a call from him. Through a set of circumstances he was meeting with a woman named Lorrie on Jan. 15, 2009. Turns out, she was interrupted during their chat by a call from her husband to tell her ‘everything was all right.’ Her husband was Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, who had just landed the US Airways plane in the Hudson.”

O’Neill’s producer immediately secured the documentary rights to the story and called her. It was a call that she said she thankfully returned immediately. Capt. Sullenberger’s story premiered one year later.

“I’m very proud of the film and the producer’s efforts to get it made. It happened because of a long-standing relationship. Ideally, people want to like the people they work with. Keep that in mind as you grind away at jobs and advance along career paths. I live by the old saying— it is nice to be important, but it is more important to be nice.”

O’Neill stressed the importance of taking responsibility for your actions, explaining that many executives fail because they are unable to make decisions. She also focused on the necessity of taking risks.

“Of course I’ve taken big risks with specials like Nik Wallenda wire walks, expeditions to find a giant squid and series like ‘Naked and Afraid’ or ‘American Muscle.’ Oh, never heard of ‘American Muscle’? Yeah, it was a risk and it didn’t work, but failure makes us better.”

O’Neill concluded with challenging the new graduates to show up early, take the jobs no on else wants and build a great reputation.