David Calhoun

CEO, Nielsen Co.

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Everyone seemed to know what Nielsen needed to do: Integrate its vast troves of media, marketing and consumer data holed up in dozens of operating units around the globe to mine and package the vast reservoirs of marketing insight within.
DAVID CALHOUN
WHY HE WAS CHOSEN:
  • Integrated Nielsen data to provide marketing insights.

  • Has gotten Wal-Mart to loosen grip on sales data


It's just that no one was doing it.

That was the finding of David Calhoun, who was one of the most prized products of the General Electric Co. management factory before his recruitment last year to become CEO of Nielsen Co.

Speaking to hundreds of clients at the company's Consumer 360 Conference in Hollywood, Fla., in May, Mr. Calhoun recounted how top investors in the old publicly held VNU polled clients. "And that crowd told them point-blank that they'd seen no sign of integration," Mr. Calhoun said.

So the investors tossed out old management and sold out to private equity. The new owners polled clients, asking whether all the Nielsen data were "worth integrating ... and the answer they got was 100% yes, but it's a hard job," he says.

That job is now Mr. Calhoun's.

"The simple fact is, five years ago, I don't think even if we had [integrated service] that anyone would buy it," Mr. Calhoun says. "I think the media-fragmentation explosion that has happened [since] is significant and big and absolutely has opened the door."

Tom Mastrelli, Nielsen exec VP-corporate development, said Mr. Calhoun was a breath of fresh air. "Dave has really lifted the entire company," he says .

"He's gotten us moving forward as an integrated operating business."

Certainly he's done the predictable for private-equity managers -- a layoff of 10% of Nielsen's global workforce. But he's also done the unpredictable, such as hiring outspoken media-agency executive and Nielsen critic Jon Mandel in December to head the Nielsen Connect unit charged with integrating all those services.

By May, Nielsen had launched the first six experiments to that end -- including a retail-marketing measurement service that convinced Wal-Mart Stores to loosen its grip on sales data a bit to help show whether in-store marketing really works. "Winners love to experiment," he says.

BET YOU DIDN'T KNOW:
Eight months before Nielsen hired him as CEO, Fortune called Mr. Calhoun the "No. 1 draft pick in the game of grabbing top executive talent" and "the most lusted-after managerial star who isn't already a CEO."

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