John Hendricks

TV Entrepreneur

Washington, D.C.

John Hendricks is the founder and chairman of Discovery Communications. He launched the Discovery Channel in 1985 as the first all-documentary cable television station. Since then, Discovery Communications has grown to include 167 networks and 26 global brands, including TLC, Animal Planet, Science Channel and Investigation Discovery, and is available to more than 1.8 billion subscribers in 220 countries. Hendricks also is owner of Gateway Canyons Resort, a luxury hotel in Western Colorado (about 50 miles southwest of Grand Junction) that includes a world-class spa, a classic car museum and adventure tours (think Pro-Baja truck off-road driving experiences or helicopter rides above Utah’s canyon country). Gateway Canyons also serves as the base camp for the Discovery Retreats getaways, where inquisitive vacationers can participate in “Curiosity Adventures” and do everything from explore dinosaur tracks to attend lectures on Native American history.

  • On May 3, 2013
    John Hendricks answered the question: John Hendricks

    What are some of John Hendricks’ proudest career moments?

    My entire career is the creation of the Discovery Channel — creating that and getting it on the satellite. We first went up on June 17, 1985, and since that time, we’ve been lucky to acquire TLC in 1991, and create others from scratch, like Animal Planet, the Science Channel and Discovery Health. And we’re fortunate to have some great partners, like Oprah. We’re partners with her on the Oprah Winfrey Network, OWN. And it’s just such a thrill now to travel almost anywhere in the world. I mean, I was in a fishing village in Thailand and people had Discovery Channel. It was just amazing.
  • On May 3, 2013
    John Hendricks answered the question: John Hendricks

    What struggles did John Hendricks overcome when launching Discovery Channel?

    Typically when you have a new idea or are starting a business, it’s expensive. And it’s hard to find an entrepreneur who was lucky enough to be born into a family who had lots of wealth — someone whose family said, “Oh, you need $10 million to start a new business? Here it is.” That seldom happens, so whether it’s Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Reed Hastings, myself or others, that first challenge is raising the money and convincing people that your idea has value.

    When I finished college at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, I took a job for a year there. My job was to go to Washington and bring back federal money, so my skills set was preparing proposals, convincing federal grant agencies to provide our university with contracts and grants over a lot of other competition. One of my proposals beat out a proposal by the University of Maryland, and that got the attention of the university administration, who was looking for a new grants officer, so it hired me and that got me to the Washington area. My skills set was trying to convince people to invest in the nonprofit world, and I was able to combine that with this burning passion to create a documentary series channel and finally raise money for my own venture. So from ’81 to ’85 I closed my first round of financing. It wasn’t enough — you never get enough money to break even — for me it came in two phases. The first was a $5 million round, and that was enough to get Discovery on a satellite for about five or six months, and fortunately it was well-received by cable operators and their customers; and so after a lot of work, we finally closed the second round, which was for $20 million. That was enough for us to break even by late 1987. But so many great ideas never come to pass because they just never get funding.
  • On May 3, 2013
    John Hendricks answered the question: John Hendricks

    How did John Hendricks begin his media career?

    I grew up in Alabama during the civil rights era, and television was a lifeline to this other world and time that we all experienced in the South. And as a curious kid, I loved documentaries. Walter Cronkite had several series on in the ’60s; one was called You Are There. He treated historical events as news events, so you could go back to the Alamo and they’d have fictitious characters reenacting all the scenes, plus a reporter on the site reporting back to Walter about what was happening. I loved that kind of television — science and technology programming — and I’m still a news junkie. And so when cable started to develop in 1975, HBO took the simple concept of having a channel with one format, one type of entertainment. Then soon thereafter ESPN went on in ’79 and CNN in 1980. I was in the D.C. area at the time and had this lifelong passion for quality, documentary-style television, and I was waiting in the late ’70s for someone to create my kind of channel, and no one did. I finally decided to do it myself. I had the idea for Discovery in ’82, and so I researched the cable industry and was fortunate over a three-year period to raise enough money to convince others to invest and to go on satellite on June 17, 1985.

    And so it started with this passion, but I think with most entrepreneurs, that passion has to reach a level of what I call creative obsession. Look at anybody who does something new in the world, like James Cameron, who creates new special-effect techniques or comes up with a new movie like Avatar. He was creatively obsessed for about four years making that happen. A chief characteristic of entrepreneurs is they start with a curiosity and wonder why something doesn’t exist. I have a friend, Reed Hastings, who was late on a video he rented from Blockbuster, and he forgot to return it. And so they sent him a notice that he owed them a $45 late fee. It was just so silly that he owed much more money than the movie was worth and so he thought, “There’s got to be a better way.” He’s a problem solver, so when he was working out the next week at his local gym, he said, “This is a better model; I pay my gym $30 a month, and I can use it or not use it as much as I want.” And so he created Netflix. And that’s kind of how it happens. Every entrepreneur I’ve ever met — whether it’s Jeff Bezos who created Amazon, Ted Turner who created CNN, Michael Dell with Dell computers — all went through these periods of total creative obsession. Whether it was two years, four years, six years or longer, it takes that kind of passion and perseverance to make something new happen, especially something that’s never been done before.
  • On May 3, 2013
    John Hendricks answered the question: John Hendricks

    What are John Hendricks’ favorite restaurants?

    In New York, I have several. When I’m staying at The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park, Nobu on 57th is just a couple blocks away, so I always tend to eat there. And I like the Southwestern cuisine at Mesa Grill on Fifth Avenue. And my two favorite Italian places are Del Posto on 10th Avenue and Scarpetta. For seafood, we like Blue Water Grill.
  • On May 3, 2013
    John Hendricks answered the question: John Hendricks

    What is the best trip John Hendricks has ever taken?

    When our two children, Andrew and Elizabeth, finished college, we took a big family trip. We went on a six-week cruise with Regent Seven Seas Cruises. We flew from New York to Bangkok. It was so easy. We toured Malaysia, Bangkok, even Burma. We did things like we’ve had on the Discovery Channel — we visited Komodo [in Indonesia] and all of Australia and New Zealand. We all continue to say that was the best vacation.
  • On May 3, 2013
    John Hendricks answered the question: John Hendricks

    What does John Hendricks look for in a hotel?

    I love a little more space, and I value comfort. There are some hotels that just aren’t comfortable. Just being able to have comfortable furniture you can lie down on or read a book or watch TV after a long day of business or touring is important. And I really value having my own closet; when the bags are all unpacked, I like to have enough space to get the bags out of the room or in a closet, so spaciousness is important. And a big thing I look for, and we’ve made sure we have at Gateway Canyons, is plenty of space to put your toiletries in the bathroom. It’s so amazing to go into a great hotel and find no place to lay out all of your toiletries. I also like having a good restaurant within the hotel in case I’m lazy and don’t want to go out. And plenty of outlets for being able to plug in your iPhone or iPad or whatever electronic device is also necessary. A little thing like that can turn into an annoyance if you have to struggle to find a wall outlet.
  • On May 3, 2013
    John Hendricks answered the question: John Hendricks

    What are John Hendricks’ favorite hotels?

    I spend a lot of time in New York because Discovery has an office there, so I go there for business. I have two favorite New York hotels. One’s kind of traditional, but I’ve come to love The Waldorf Towers at Waldorf Astoria New York. I think it’s because it’s close to the Discovery office, but it’s also a place where everybody knows my name. It’s just this comfortable residential setting, and that’s something that I’ve come to value in a hotel — that it feels like home. Most of the rooms have a very traditional New York hotel feel, but you can still just relax. They have comfortable couches, enough living space so you can sit and read a book or watch TV, and it’s all separated from the bedroom. My other favorite place is The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park. I typically stay there on personal trips because I love the easy access to Central Park.
  • On May 3, 2013
    John Hendricks answered the question: John Hendricks

    What are John Hendricks’ favorite cities?

    In the U.S., Western Colorado, of course. But Discovery is located in the Washington, D.C., area, so I spend a lot of time there, and I love Bethesda. I also love Park City, Utah, and La Jolla, California. My wife and I love Venice, Italy; and I have taken adventure travels in Africa that were just special, mainly because of the opportunities I’ve had with Discovery to go and do things like spend time with the last hunter-gatherer tribes in Tanzania.