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How The CEO Of Yo Gabba Gabba! Producer Wildbrain Ended Up At The State Department

Charles Rivkin is likely the only person who’s ever worked for both Jim Henson and John Kerry. Here’s some of what he’s learned.

How The CEO Of Yo Gabba Gabba! Producer Wildbrain Ended Up At The State Department
Charles Rivkin, MCP 2009 Then: President and CEO, Wildbrain Media Now: Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs [Photo: Jared Soares]

His father was a U.S. ­ambassador, but as a kid, Charles Rivkin thought that career path was an “impossible dream—like wanting to coach the Yankees.” So he went into finance instead, then moved into the entertainment business, rising to CEO of the Jim Henson Co. in 2000. When he appeared on our 2009 MCP list, Rivkin was the president and CEO of Wildbrain, the companybehind Nickelodeon’s ­toddler-world ­pheno­m­enon Yo Gabba Gabba!.

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But government was the family business, and Rivkin never lost interest in public service. He was a major fundraiser for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, and in 2009 the president rewarded him with the ambassadorship to France and Monaco. ­After a successful run in Paris, he was named assistant secretary of state for economic and business ­affairs in 2014, part of a push by John Kerry to bring more business leaders into the state department.

Rivkin’s current responsibilities include managing international trade and implementing economic sanctions against the likes of Russia and Iran. (He also started the state department’s first podcast.) His overall goals—grow the economy, generate jobs—aren’t so different from a CEO’s, even if the challenges are new. “Leading large ­bureaucracies is fun, but different from anything I’ve experienced in the private sector,” he says. “It’s about how you engage.”

Best development of the past six years

President Obama’s leadership. “Obamacare will be a lasting legacy.”

Worst development

Terrorism, intolerance, “ethnic and religious enmity,” and climate change. “We’re living in a very complex world.”

Limited time only

As a political appointee, his current position will likely expire with the arrival of a new ­administration, a state of affairs that has proved to be freeing. “I’m not interested in getting promoted. My focus is simply on making things better.”

Advice from a master

“Jim Henson used to always say that media, if used properly, could be an enormous source of good in the world. I think that goes even more for government.”

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How He Stays Productive

Communicate regularly

“When I was in Paris, I was the first ambassador to have town hall meetings with every member of the embassy.”

Like, really communicate

“It’s amazing when you go into a meeting and explain to people that there really aren’t any bad ideas. I’ve been very impressed by the creativity that our foreign service officers are capable of exhibiting.”

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