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Behind the Music

MTV's explosive growth prompts a substantial financial reengineering effort, one that even the most buttoned-down companies can learn from.

The team consists of 11 volunteers who left jobs in several different areas of MTVN’s operations in order to devote themselves to the project. They are in for what FORE project leader Ralph Carras calls a veritable “MBA program,” because their work will expose them to so many facets of MTVN’s operations. When the project is complete, in fact, members will be in line for promotions. So, far from a career time-out, participation is clearly a career enhancer.

MTVN also created a project steering committee. Currently numbering a dozen people—new members are still being added—it includes Simon, Day, Ferrari, MTVN Europe CFO Graham Wallace, and MTVN’s new CFO, John Cucci. The committee meets with the project team every other week to review their progress, make recommendations, and give tough feedback. It also evaluates resource needs and makes critical decisions to help ensure the project remains on target.

As with the decision to make Project FORE membership a full-time gig, the creation of the steering committee is also a response to MTV’s past mistakes. “When we did the chart of accounts conversion, there was no real ownership, no real management input,” recalls Day. “A lot of the decisions were made at a level that was probably inappropriate for the scope of the project.” For example, the system failed to provide enough cost-center codes, so as MTV grew and added new cost centers, some codes had to be recycled. As a result, the same number can refer to different centers, depending on the year in question. Not cool.

Cisco Kids

Such careful deliberations did not include plans for a road trip, but a key moment in Project FORE’s short lifetime came earlier this year, when the team visited Cisco Systems, the San Jose, California, computer-networks vendor. According to Ferrari, the visit was the result of a “swing-by” visit from Cisco’s CEO, John Chambers. “We were chatting, and we told him what we’re doing, and he said, ‘Maybe you should talk to our guys, because we went through this pain a while back,’” explains Ferrari. MTV’s project team had eschewed consultants and other forms of outside help, but they were more than willing to learn from the successes of others.

The visit left the Project FORE team energized and inspired—though executives are careful to point out that MTVN does not plan to achieve a four-hour close. “The price of getting to that kind of efficiency as such doesn’t really serve us,” says Day. “But to get from 12 days to 8 days, and from 8 days to our current 6 days—we certainly wanted to avail ourselves of that.” The focus is now on the quality of information and the company’s ability to analyze it.

With its mission further clarified, MTVN decided to create a two-phase approach. Phase one comprises all the preliminary steps that come before the actual implementation, including collecting information, documenting and analyzing current processes, and making recommendations. When CFO IT spoke to the team in July, it was engaged in the collection stage. This entails, in part, conducting in-depth interviews with some 175 MTVN employees throughout the company as part of a massive effort to document all the company’s systems and workflows. In addition, several working committees comprised of targeted subject-matter experts have been formed, and they will report to the Project FORE project leaders to help them accomplish tasks in targeted areas.

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