As the newly appointed head of Conde Nast Entertainment, and the former president of the CW Network, Dawn Ostroff is one of the most powerful women in the entertainment industry. For almost a decade, she has consistently been included on power lists in such publications as Elle Magazine, The Hollywood Reporter, and Entertainment Weekly. Dawn is not only an entertainment wonder woman—she’s also the mother of four children, ranging in age from seven to twenty-one. This week, she took a break in her hectic schedule to give us a few words of advice about motherhood, careers, and how she manages to be successful at both.
How did you initiate your career in television?
I started while I was in college, answering request lines for a radio station. Soon after, I became a local news reporter in Miami—first at WINZ, a CBS affiliate, and then for the local networks WPLG and WTVJ. I was only 18, so it was a very young age to have so much responsibility. I would go to school at night, and then I worked during the day. It was great. I was quite independent very early on.
Had you always wanted to work in the field?
I had always wanted to do it, but I hadn’t really planned on becoming a local reporter at such a young age. I just jumped into it. What was so fascinating about it was that I was discovering a lot about real world situations, some of which were horrific, while I was still very, very young. After a while, it became a bit too much for me, all of the tragedy. I think that in hindsight, it was a great experience, but it just wasn’t ultimately what I wanted to do.
What led you into the entertainment industry?
I moved out to Los Angeles and worked as an assistant to an executive at 20th Century Fox. I loved working in the entertainment industry. It was just a better lifestyle. And there was a lot more laughing every day.
How did your career unfold from there?
I worked my way through several positions and eventually became a television producer. I was involved in the production movies of the week, sitcoms, and dramas including “Boy Meets World” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” After I had been in the studio system for a while, I realized that what I really wanted to be was an executive. So I ended up as an executive at Fox, which led me to run a company called Michael Jacobs Productions at Disney. After that, I worked at Lifetime Television, where I eventually became the Executive Vice President. Next, I served as President of UPN Entertainment, which merged with the WB Television Network in 2006 to become the CW.
As President of the CW Network, I worked from the ground floor to develop shows such as “Gossip Girl,” “America’s Next Top Model,” “One Tree Hill,” “Supernatural,” and “Smallville,” among many others. At Conde Nast, I’m going to work with their portfolio of brands—which range from The New Yorker to Vogue to Vanity Fair—to develop film, television, and digital initiatives.
How were you able to strike a balance with your career and motherhood?
You really have to figure out how to juggle both worlds, and it’s never easy. It’s a matter of being able to figure out how you can be at each place when you really need to be there. I always make sure I’m there for my children. When I’m in the office, I’m focused on work. But when I’m with my children, I’m focused on them.
I get up very early most mornings, usually around 4am, to get work done before the kids wake up. I get a lot done between 4am-6am, when no one else is around.
What was the moment when you realized how influential you had become?
It was when Lifetime became the #1 cable news network in America. I started the CW Network five years ago from scratch, and it has really become a network people know about and want to watch. Our viewers generally consider our network to be their favorite.
Do you think that women still face difficulties securing the top positions in the entertainment industry?
There have really been a lot of positive changes for women in the past twenty years, and I have to say that I’ve been more pleasantly surprised than disappointed in my own experience. I think that women have come very far. That being said, there’s still a long way to go. There are still no women serving as CEOs of the big media companies.
What experiences have helped you to grasp the importance of financial literacy?
When I was younger and just starting out, I learned a lot. I was very independent financially by the time I was 16 or 17 years old. I am also lucky to be married to someone in the finance industry. But as I’ve gotten older, I have come to better understand what my financial needs and goals are. I think that it’s important for women to be on top of what they want for themselves. You cannot sit back and wait for someone else to bring it to you.
What advice do you have for young women who are working toward establishing a career?
You have to make sure you’re very passionate about what you want to do. I always refer to the three P’s: Passion, Persistence, and Perseverance. You cannot give up, and you have to choose your options wisely. You also have to look for other women who will mentor and support you. My mom always instilled in me that you can do anything you want, and that really helped me—both her strength and her belief in me.