Women of Style: Jennifer Salke

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This week, I am so honored to share the story of NBC’s President of Entertainment and my friend, Jennifer Salke. Under her leadership, NBC is enjoying strong ratings growth, ranking as the number one network during premiere week. Prior to joining NBC, Jen served as the executive vice president of creative affairs at Twentieth Century Fox Television, where she developed hit series such as “Glee” and “Modern Family”. Jen is a true leader and revered by all in the industry for her exceptional creative instincts and vision. She is an incredible mother, a dedicated philanthropist, super chic and just the coolest woman you will ever meet.  –Mandana Dayani

Her first job in the television and film industry…
“I was studying writing for film and television and economics at New York University and a friend of mine who worked at CAA called and asked me if I would run uptown to meet with Martin Scorsese. They were looking for a writing student to brainstorm with him on developing a contemporary story based on a classic novel. I spent about nine months working with him, and it was an incredible experience. After that I moved back to Los Angeles and got a job as an assistant to a talent agent at William Morris agency.”

One of the big milestone moments in her career…
“I’ve had a few big career moments, but I think the best was when Fox network launched “Glee” to great success. It was a show I worked on very closely with Ryan Murphy. I was so in love with the show, and it was incredibly gratifying to see that the world loved the show, too. It informed my belief that if you build something great and original, network hits are possible!”

Her typical day at NBC…
“Probably nine-plus hours of staff, scheduling or marketing meetings mixed in with writer meetings, notes sessions, a table read or comedy run through. Hundreds of emails and lots of calls. They are incredibly busy days most of the time where I’m scheduled every hour of the day. There’s always more to do.”

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Jennifer with Blair Underwood from NBC’s new drama ‘Ironside’. Photo: Courtesy.

What she loves about working in television…
“I’m a big multi-tasker so I love that I’m working on lots of different projects all at various stages. From working on an outline or a script to watching actors perform at a comedy taping, I love to immerse myself in the creative process. I really love storytelling, and I’m lucky to have a job where everything we do centers around a story. The show is everything. I also love management; so it’s been, and continues to be, a fantastic experience helping lead the charge in changing the culture at NBC.”

Her office wardrobe must-haves…
“A great jacket and shoes. Vintage or contemporary, I love pairing a great jacket with pencil skirts and dresses. I wear heels every day and love shoes! My outfit isn’t complete without them. And lately, I love my antique bracelets from Israel mixed in with gold bangles. People hear me coming a mile away!”

What she looks for in a television show…
“Really, it’s all about originality and the vision of the creator(s). In a very crowded marketplace, the show has to feel special and spark widespread interest. It’s really challenging, but truly inspired shows can rise to the top.”

Her advice for aspiring writers…
“It’s a difficult business, but also can be extremely gratifying. The best thing to do if you want to write is keep writing and try to get a job working for a writer on a show. It’s a great way to get a foot in the door. These jobs are extremely coveted, so it’s not easy — but never give up. Also try to find an inspired idea, study the craft and write an original script. Something great will find its way if you persevere.”

The best career advice she’s ever received…
“Dana Walden taught me to always be honest and prepared to have tough conversations. Giving difficult feedback to people can be really hard. I had to learn that it’s best to be honest and give people input even when it’s difficult for them to hear.”

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Jennifer with Dana Walden, Chairman of 20th Century Fox (and our Woman of Style on October 24th!). Photo: Getty Images

Her career role model…
“I mentioned Dana Walden above and will again. She and I have a lot in common – busy women balancing incredibly demanding jobs with family. We both want to be hands-on parents, but also aren’t prepared to sacrifice our careers. It’s a tricky dance sometimes, but she inspired me to find a balance where both parts of my life get the best of me. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely doable.”

Her career “Don’t”…
“Entitlement can be a huge barrier to success. I sometimes think people feel they deserve a career to be handed to them, but they really don’t put in the passion and effort to get there.”

One of her passions outside of the office…
“I got really involved with Operation Smile when my son, Henry, was about 8 years old. Henry was born with a cleft lip and had access to the best doctors at 5 weeks old to repair it. Henry and I were inspired to fund raise for them and have been doing that now for over five years. We spent ten days in Brazil on a medical mission that cemented our commitment to the cause. It was truly incredible to see the difference these missions make in people’s lives. I just co-chaired their annual Beverly Hills gala that raised over three million dollars, and Henry and I founded an annual ski race event in Park City. This year will be our third race and we hope to break our $300,000 record of last year! Henry hopes to develop an outreach through social media and is working on ideas to get more people involved!”

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Jennifer’s son, Henry, speaking at an Operation Smile fundraiser. Photo via @JSalke on Twitter.

What to wear on a job interview with her company…
“I like a classic, polished professional look, but it should definitely show a little personality!”

The go-to designers for her office wardrobe…
“Armani, The Row, Ralph Lauren, Narcisco Rodriguez, Fendi, Michael Kors, Rachel Zoe, Balenciaga and Stella McCartney.”

Her fashion or industry crush…
“My husband. He’s always dressed impeccably.”

How she finds balance between work and personal life…
“It’s a high wire act, but I follow these basic guidelines. I hired a tutor so my time with my children wasn’t largely spent talking about argumentative things like homework. I’m very judicial with scheduling work engagements on the weekend, so I can spend all that time with family. I socialize with other families, so we can all be in it together. We all love to travel and plan as many adventures as possible. We have a place in Utah, which is a sacred getaway for family and friends.”

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Jennifer with her husband Bert Salke, President of Fox21. Photo: Courtesy

Three things we don’t know about Jennifer…
1. “I could have been a doctor! I love medicine and am more than happy to get my hands dirty in a medical emergency. I’ve been very hands on helping deliver my friends’ babies. I’m great at caring for sick people, and I once spent six months volunteering on a late shift at Cedars-Sinai emergency room. I loved it.”

2. “I believe in angels and ghosts! We once lived in a haunted house! Truly. The story would give you chills.”

3. “I plan to write a book one day. I’m not sure what or when, but I know it will happen.”

The advice she would you give her 20-year-old self…
“Be yourself and be brave. Don’t ever be afraid to stand up and speak about things you believe in.”

This post was updated from its original format on 10/3/2013.

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