We had a chance to ask Gracia a few questions so you could get to know her better before the big event in November. Here's what she had to say.
JA: If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?
Gracia: "I would like to be able to teleport myself instantaneously to anywhere I would like to go. There are so many places in the world that I would like to visit, learn from, and explore, but only have a finite amount of time to do it all. This power would enable me to cut out the travel time and hassles of getting to these places and make the entire Earth readily accessible. The other superpower I would like to have is a one-time ability to do something that would impact a significant number of people. I would use that one-time offer to end homelessness around the globe."
JA: What was the hardest job you have ever done?
Gracia: "I believe that the most difficult time of my career was being the CFO of then Gannett/TEGNA in 2008 and 2009 during the financial crisis. Not only were we having to navigate through the greatest recession since the Great Depression, but the media industry specifically was wrestling with significant secular change. The combination of these two factors necessitated a very different business model and we had to make very difficult decisions during that period.
The silver lining, however, was that in 2006 and 2007, we recognized that the exuberance and excesses in the economy could not last and so we took a number of steps to help us be much better positioned as a company to weather that storm. In addition, that very difficult period allowed us to make important changes to our focus that were more significant and done much faster than they would have been done in a normal environment. These changes were ultimately critical to our future strategy and success."
JA: Did you have a mentor or role model over the course of your career? Who?
Gracia: "I have been fortunate to have had mentors all through my life, starting with my college adviser, Dr. Marian Just. All of these people shared their wisdom and encouraged me in ways big and small that have been critical to what I have accomplished.
In my very first job in banking right out of college, I remember being summoned into the Vice Chairman's office. He was a very serious and imposing, white-haired man, so as you can imagine, I was a bit nervous. I have never forgotten what he said to me and I have conducted my career and my life accordingly. He said: "Never do anything that you would not want your mother to read on the front page of the Wall Street Journal." I think that is great advice that should be shared in every business school on the first day of classes.
During my career at Gannett/TEGNA, there are two people who have stood out as role models to me. My first boss, Jimmy Thomas, who reinforced for me the importance of hard work and focus and bringing 120% to everything you do, no matter how big or small the assignment. And the second was Doug McCorkindale, who helped me understand how to successfully deal with all the external constituencies a CEO must deal with. He also taught me a lot about decision-making and to always keep all of your options open until you must make a decision but to never defer or delay a decision that must be made. These are two brilliant people who I have learned so much from."
JA: What do you think is the single greatest challenge facing the next generation?
Gracia: "I feel that the next generation faces a trust issue when it comes to how they receive, share, and process news and information. A lot has been said recently about the role of the media. Fake news is a serious and growing issue. But as a leading media company, it is vital that TEGNA remains a trusted source of content. People of all ages, but especially younger audiences, are increasingly relying on social media to stay informed. But how do they trust that the content they are reading or watching is accurate and unbiased?
It is up to media companies, like TEGNA, to meet audiences where they are and provide trusted, fact-checked, reliable and shareable content across devices. That is why TEGNA launched Verify, an innovative approach to fact-checking. Verify allows viewers to find out the truth about political speeches, breaking news events, government reports, and trending videos, all without the spin, just facts. We are building trust with our audiences which is leading to more informed and educated citizens."
JA: What’s the one thing you want the Greater Washington business community to know about your company this year?
Gracia: "The most important thing to know about TEGNA is that we are constantly innovating in the digital age. TEGNA is much more than an owner of television stations, like WUSA9. We are finding new, creative, and innovative ways to better serve our communities, including right here in DC. We are telling impactful and empowering stories across devices. As audiences move to digital, we are moving with them, creating social-first content and embracing new methods of storytelling like Facebook Live and virtual reality. In fact, TEGNA is one of the top 10 publishers on Facebook.
Our industry is evolving rapidly and it is crucial that we redefine local journalism in the digital age. We are replacing traditional newscasts with differentiated formats. We are investing in unique and shareable storytelling formats and investigative work that makes a difference to those who need it most.
We're embracing change and have an incredible team and culture that are driving our company forward."
Join us November 29th as we honor Gracia and three other outstanding Washingtonian business leaders at our 30th Annual Washington Business Hall of Fame gala!