The first time I saw Ted Turner was on stage at Florida State University when he gave the commencement address at my graduation from the college of Arts & Sciences. I graduated from FSU with a degree in Mass Communications and Ted’s passionate speech about CNN and the expansion of the 24-hour global news network in the wake of the Gulf War was mesmerizing. He was hilarious, authentic, and didn’t take himself too seriously. His excitement was almost childlike, but you could tell then he was a serious businessman who was willing to push boundaries to change people’s minds. The possibilities seemed endless.
My original post-college plan was to take a few months off and head to Chicago in search of a job in journalism. Instead, I changed course and headed to Atlanta, Georgia, determined to get a job at Turner Broadcasting.
I applied to a few jobs at CNN and still have the rejection letters from those attempts. The competition was fierce, and I was determined to find another way in. I had heard that Turner used a temporary agency for some entry level positions. Since I could type 100 wpm, the agency signed me right up and the next thing I knew I was placed at Turner Sports subbing in for a production assistant who was out of the country for a few months.
I got to work at CNN Center, and it was like my grown-up life had officially begun. I took every opportunity to meet new people and volunteer to help wherever I could. I applied for every job on the job board. Eventually, I landed a position in Ad Sales Operations and moved to the Techwood mansion, where Ted and Jane both lived and worked.
My cubicle was in a basement office with no windows, and in the morning Ted would walk around in his bathrobe and slippers, carrying his coffee mug with him. He would regularly give impromptu, morale-boosting talks in conference rooms where he would thank everyone for their hard work. He always asked us to treat his business like our business and spend company money as we would our own money.
"Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise,” is a famous Ted saying and because I worked in Ad Operations, I got to hear this one often.
Eventually, my team was moved to CNN Center as it expanded, and that environment was much more corporate. Ted and Jane moved their home to the penthouse in the South Tower where I worked on the 9th floor. Movie stars and famous people were always coming and going from the building. Jane used to occasionally teach workout classes at the Turner gym.
After working at Turner for four and a half years, I was selected for an emerging leadership program and got to meet Ted one-on-one. He was sweet, funny, and supportive.
Ted encouraged me to keep working hard and his advice was to offer to learn something new whenever I had the chance, and if that chance didn’t present itself it was up to me to make it happen.
He firmly believed that volunteering to learn new things on the job was how to most effectively get ahead. In all the roles I’ve had at this company, I’ve always kept this in mind.
A position in the New York office came up about 6 months later, and I jumped at the opportunity. Twenty-eight years after starting as a Turner temp employee, I’m still working at the company he started. Although we have gone through several evolutions – AOL, Time Warner, WarnerMedia – I will always have a soft spot for the Turner name and Ted’s legacy. I’ll be forever grateful for this wild ride.
About the Author
Terri Gunnell is the Executive Vice President, Head of Monetization and Data Platforms for WarnerMedia NYC. She previously worked for Turner and Turner Broadcasting Systems, Inc., for nearly 20 years.