Patrick Bennett: Staying Nimble in a Rapidly Changing Field

Patrick Bennett got his first big break in Hollywood a decade ago, when he answered an ad from a multimedia start-up looking for someone with "a new vision for technology." Bennett got the job and soon was directing software projects for major studios like MGM, Paramount and Warner Brothers.

Now, as executive director of business applications at E! Entertainment Television Inc. in Los Angeles, Bennett, 49, is turning that "new vision" into reality.

"There's been an explosive change," he says. "Everything is transforming, and no one knows where it will end up."

With the rapid expansion of new media, the need to innovate and quickly respond to market demand is greater than ever, Bennett explains. "You have to be continually learning and changing, because nothing is standing still," he says. "You have to expand beyond the walls of traditional IT."

Patrick Bennett

Image Credit: Seth JoelTearing down walls is something Bennett has been doing since the start of his career. Bennett says he "fell into technology" when he took a job as a business/technology liaison after graduating from Cornell University with a degree in English literature. Moving between corporate management and IT helped him develop a broad perspective, something that's critical for IT leaders today, he says.

Currently enrolled in an MBA program, Bennett says he's looking to get even more involved in the business side of the entertainment industry. And he's also trying his hand at more creative endeavors. For instance, Bennett wrote a screenplay called Window and persuaded the television show Scrubs  to loan its set for filming. The short drama, starring Lou Gossett Jr., recently won an award at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis.

Moving beyond the realm of IT, both inside and outside the company, provides unique opportunities to learn from other people, Bennett emphasizes. One of his mentors is Jeff Mayzurk, senior vice president of technology at E! "He has passion around innovation," Bennett says. "He continues to push me."

He adds that his father, Oscar Bennett, a retired chief warrant officer in the U.S. Army Special Forces, has also been a role model. "Being an Army brat, I've been exposed to all levels of leaders and models of the way to lead," he notes.

When it comes to leadership style, Bennett's approach is to let his team "do its thing," stepping in when guidance is needed at key points, according to David Johnson, director of software development at E! "He gets the big picture and has the keen sense of knowing when he's needed, like an invisible guiding hand," Johnson says.

But sometimes, more than one take is needed to get it right.

For example, Bennett says E!'s digital asset information system, known as Daisy, started out several years ago as a "monolithic, multiyear project" designed to streamline content management and production. But after a great deal of time and money was spent on the system, "the vision proved too grand to do in one project," Bennett says.

Instead of scrapping the initiative altogether, the technology group broke it down into functional blocks and began building components in increments. Today, the system is under continual development and provides state-of-the-art functionality while reducing costs through improved efficiencies.

The lesson learned, Bennett says, is that "even if you have a massive failure, take what you can from it and persevere." He says he asks all prospective hires about project failures, because "if you haven't failed, you haven't been seasoned as a leader."

See the complete 2007 Premier 100 IT Leaders special report.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon