Season 2, Episode 4: Laura Walker ’87, Founding President and CEO of New York Public Radio, with Max Dworin ’20
Laura Walker was the founding President and CEO of New York Public Radio and held that position for 23 years until earlier this year. She is now an Executive Fellow in Residence at the Yale School of Management and an advisor to New York Public Radio, Common Sense Media, and a range of startups. She is interviewed by Max Dworin ’20.
About Laura Walker ’87
Laura Walker was the founding President and CEO of New York Public Radio. It is an independent nonprofit that owns the nation’s largest public radio station group and is one of the world’s preeminent producers of podcasts and national radio programs that reach 26 million people each month, including Radiolab, On the Media, and The New Yorker Radio Hour. Under Ms. Walker’s leadership, NYPR increased its annual budget from $8 million to $95 million and its employees from 55 to 425 and its monthly audience from one million to 26 million. She led the acquisitions of The Gothamist, four stations of New Jersey Public Radio, and WQXR Radio from The New York Times. Since 2000, NYPR has been honored with 10 George Foster Peabody Awards and five Alfred I. DuPont Columbia Awards. A pioneer in podcasting, she was responsible for the creation of WNYC Studios, which is one of the top three podcast studios in the world, with 32 million downloads a month.
Ms. Walker was honored with an Edward R. Murrow Award from the Corporate for Public Broadcasting. In 2009 and again in 2017, she was named by Crain’s as one of New York City’s 50 Most Powerful Women. Ms. Walker began her professional career as a print journalist. She later moved to National Public Radio where she worked as a producer. At Carnegie Hall, where she launched the award-winning series AT&T Presents Carnegie Hall Tonight. After business school, she joined Sesame Workshop as the Vice President of Development. Ms. Walker sits on the boards of The Commonwealth Fund, Yale Center for Customer Insights, Tribune Media Company, and the Eagle Picher Trust.
She was recognized in May with the honorable Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award by the Municipal Arts Society for her notable contribution to the public media landscape. Ms. Walker holds an MBA from the Yale School of Management and a BA in History, magna cum laude, from Wesleyan University, where she was an Olin Scholar.
Laura Walker (10:37): “I had gone actually between my first and second year while I was at BCG to go talk to somebody who had been at Sesame Workshop because what I really wanted to do was do media with a mission and with good business sense and I thought, Sesame Workshop—at the time called Children’s Television Workshop—there was a great sense of business. They were doing great licensing, and really reaching a lot of children and probably every child all across America, and yet they had incredible sense of mission and of education and a real critical stance in terms of always asking, how can we be better? How can we reach more kids? How can we make sure that the impact that we have is as strong as it can be? And so I decided in a decision that I think my class was probably divided on, those that knew me. Half of them thought I was crazy to turn down a consulting job at BCG or any of the other places and half of them were applauding me and saying, ‘You go girl.’”
Laura Walker (15:00): “I wanted to run a nonprofit and I wanted to do more strategy or run a division, I wanted to have more line experience and so I held them to that after five years. They didn’t want me to leave development but I said, ‘You promised.’ And they actually said something to me that was really smart and something I've said to other people, which is, ‘You have to find your successor and you have to groom your successor and once we feel like that person is groomed, no problem. You can move on.’ And I think that's a very smart kind of thing to do.”
Laura Walker (29:24): There has to be a wall between the money and the coverage, and that is, honestly one of the most important principles of journalism. And so, when people want to give money where there is a real desire to kind of have some kind of influence over the editorial coverage, or if there's a perception that they're going to have it, you've just got to say no.
About Career Conversations
In this podcast series, SOM students sit down with alumni for a series of candid conversations about career paths, industries, opportunities for MBAs, and discussions on various career topics including work-life balance and creating a meaningful impact in business and society. This series is produced by and recorded at the Yale School of Management.