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Dennis Hightower

Broadcast executive and business professor Dennis Fowler Hightower was born on October 28, 1941 in Washington, D.C. to Marvin William Hightower and Virginia Fowler Hightower, an educator. After graduating from McKinley High School in 1958, Hightower attended Howard University where he earned his B.S degree in 1962. In addition to joining Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and being a college athlete, Hightower was the top graduating cadet of the Army ROTC university program.

After graduating from Howard University, Hightower was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, where he served as a platoon leader and company commander in the 101st Airborne Division. Afterwards, Hightower was trained as a counterintelligence officer and field operations intelligence officer, working in strategic and operational assignments in the United States and abroad. Hightower also served in Vietnam in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade, where he was promoted to the rank of major. Hightower was awarded two Bronze Star medals, a Purple Heart, three Air Medals, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, five Army Commendation Medals with distinction for valor, the Vietnam Honor Medal First Class, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.

In 1970, Hightower was hired by Xerox as manager of organizational planning. He left his position there in 1972, when he was awarded a fellowship to attend Harvard Business School. He graduated in 1974 with his M.B.A. Hightower then joined McKinsey & Company and worked as a senior associate and engagement manager until 1978, when he was hired by General Electric’s Lighting Business Group. In 1987, Hightower was hired by The Walt Disney Company as vice president of Consumer Products for Europe, based in Paris, France, and later became president of Consumer Products for Europe, Middle East and Africa divisions. In 1995, he was promoted to president of Walt Disney Television and Telecommunications.

Upon his retirement in 1996, Hightower joined the faculty of Harvard Business School, initially as a senior lecturer and then as a professor of management in the M.B.A. program. On August 11, 2009, Hightower was appointed by President Barack Obama as deputy secretary of commerce. Hightower was charged with general management duties until his tenure ended on August 27, 2010.

His numerous awards include the U.S. Department of Commerce Pioneer Award; Harvard Business School Alumni Achievement Award and Bert King Service Award; and an honorary doctorate degree and Alumni Achievement Award for Business from Howard University. He is a board member of Accenture, Ltd., Brown Capital Management, Domino’s Pizza, Inc. and Casey Family Programs, and a former trustee at Howard University.

Dennis Fowler Hightower was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on January 31, 2008.

Accession Number

A2008.004

Sex

Male

Interview Date

1/31/2008

Last Name

Hightower

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Schools

McKinley Technology High School

Lucretia Mott Elementary School

Benjamin Banneker Academic High School

Harvard Business School

Howard University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Dennis

Birth City, State, Country

Washington

HM ID

HIG04

Favorite Season

None

State

District of Columbia

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

10/28/1941

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

Business professor and broadcast executive Dennis Hightower (1941 - ) was the president of Walt Disney Television and Communications. As president, he oversaw Disney's acquisition of ABC, ABC Family, ESPN, A&E and Lifetime Networks. Upon his retirement in June 1996, Hightower joined the faculty of Harvard Business School, initially as a senior lecturer and then as a professor of management in the M.B.A. program. He also acted as the Deputy Secretary of Commerce from 2009 to 2010.

Employment

United States Army

Xerox Corporation

McKinsey and Company

G.E. Lightening Business Group

Russell Reynolds Association

Walt Disney Company

White House Administrative Office (U.S.)

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Dennis Hightower describes his parents' family backgrounds

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Dennis Hightower talks about his maternal grandparents' careers

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Dennis Hightower remembers his maternal great-grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Dennis Hightower describes his paternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Dennis Hightower talks about the military career of his maternal uncle, James Fowler, Sr.

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Dennis Hightower describes his early neighborhood in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Dennis Hightower talks about his mother's teaching career

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Dennis Hightower describes father's career

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Dennis Hightower talks about his experiences at Lucretia Mott Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Dennis Hightower remembers his classmates, Charlene Drew Jarvis and Colonel Frederick Drew Gregory

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Dennis Hightower describes his early influences

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Dennis Hightower remembers integrating McKinley Technical High School in Washington, D.C., pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Dennis Hightower describes the African American community in Washington, D.C. during segregation

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Dennis Hightower talks about the intellectual African American community of Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Dennis Hightower remembers integrating McKinley Technical High School in Washington, D.C., pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Dennis Hightower recalls his appointment to the United State Military Academy Preparatory School in West Point, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Dennis Hightower remembers his high school principal, Charles E. Bish

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Dennis Hightower describes his decision to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Dennis Hightower talks about his experiences at Howard University

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Dennis Hightower recalls his social activities at Howard University

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Dennis Hightower remembers his classmates at Howard University

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Dennis Hightower describes Howard University's social hierarchy

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Dennis Hightower talks about Eddie C. Brown

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Dennis Hightower recalls working for his father as a college student

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Dennis Hightower remembers the civil rights activities at Howard University

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Dennis Hightower recalls the debate between Malcolm X and Bayard Rustin at Howard University

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Dennis Hightower talks about his wife, Denia Stukes Hightower

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Dennis Hightower describes his early career in the U.S. Army

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Dennis Hightower talks about his knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement during his military service

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Dennis Hightower recalls serving in the Vietnam War

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Dennis Hightower talks about his decision to leave the military

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Dennis Hightower remembers applying to Harvard Business School in Boston, Massachusetts, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Dennis Hightower remembers applying to Harvard Business School in Boston, Massachusetts, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Dennis Hightower talks about the African American alumni of Harvard Business School

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Dennis Hightower recalls his classes at Harvard Business School

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Dennis Hightower remembers his classmates at Harvard Business School

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Dennis Hightower describes the political climate at Harvard Business School

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Dennis Hightower remembers prominent African American business executives

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Dennis Hightower describes the start of his career at McKinsey and Company and General Electric

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Dennis Hightower remembers General Electric CEO Jack Welch

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Dennis Hightower recalls facing racial discrimination as a businessman

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Dennis Hightower talks about the restructuring of Mattel, Inc.'s business

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Dennis Hightower describes his work at Russell Reynolds Associates, Inc.

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Dennis Hightower talks about his working relationship with Frank Wells at The Walt Disney Company

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Dennis Hightower recalls the changes to Disney characters in different countries

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Dennis Hightower remembers his first impressions of Soweto, South Africa

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Dennis Hightower recalls meeting Desmond Tutu, Winnie Mandela and Nelson Mandela

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Dennis Hightower recalls meeting with European royalty

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Dennis Hightower talks about the success of The Walt Disney Company throughout Europe

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Dennis Hightower remembers Michael Eisner's leadership of The Walt Disney Company

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Dennis Hightower talks about his disagreements with Michael Eisner

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Dennis Hightower recalls debating with Michael Eisner over television programming

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Dennis Hightower remembers protesting the re-release of 'Songs of the South'

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Dennis Hightower describes his discontent with Disney channel programming during his tenure

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Dennis Hightower talks about his decision to teach at Harvard Business School in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Dennis Hightower describes his teaching experiences at Harvard Business School

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Dennis Hightower talks about his career after leaving Harvard Business School

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Dennis Hightower reflects upon his life

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Dennis Hightower shares a message to future generations

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Dennis Hightower reflects upon his legacy

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$6

DAStory

5$2

DATitle
Dennis Hightower remembers integrating McKinley Technical High School in Washington, D.C., pt. 1
Dennis Hightower talks about the success of The Walt Disney Company throughout Europe
Transcript
And, of course, in my ninth grade--that's when the Brown decision [Brown V. Board of Education of Topeka, 1954] was passed. So instead of going to Dunbar [Paul Laurence Dunbar High School; Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School, Washington, D.C.] like everybody else in my family and all of our other friends who would have gone to Dunbar, we tested for different schools. And most of us ended up testing, like Paul [J. Paul Reason], myself and Leona Fitzhugh [J. Idorenyin Jamar] whose father [H. Naylor Fitzhugh] was the second or third grad, black to graduate from Harvard Business School [Boston, Massachusetts] in 1933. All of us tested into McKinley [McKinley Technical High School; McKinley Technology High School, Washington, D.C.] which was more science and technology. So I tested into their pre-engineering program. And, again, we got to McKinley, and there it was very clear, early on, that the white teachers were not happy that we were there, and particularly, because we were bright. And the thing that we then felt and understood more clearly than we had ever before was how well prepared we really were. And there was a struggle, frankly, because many of the students, many of the teachers--there was a track system in D.C. [Washington, D.C.] at the time. There were four tracks. Track one was the top track, which they called college prep, and then track two, I forgot, I forgot what it was called. But then track three and track four were basically training you to be a secretary or to be a, you know, a trades person, whatever. So they tried to keep most of us out of track one, but it didn't work because our work was track one work, so those of us who did well, we ended up after the first semester in all track one, which would be AP [advanced placement] today. And we showed what we can do. And then what we realized was that these white kids weren't all that smart (laughter).$$What was the percentage of black students at McKinley?$$It changed. It was very interesting over that three years from '55 [1955] to '58 [1958]. I would say we had about 350 in our class. Going in, let's say 15 percent, 20 percent at the max were, were black. By the time we graduated, 75 percent were black. That's when the white flight occurred. Everyone who didn't really believe that educat- that integration was the right thing, that's when people moved to Silver Spring [Maryland], to Bethesda [Maryland], to Chevy Chase [Maryland]. That's when the white flight occurred.$And I'll give you an example. Michael Eisner and I were in Moscow [Russia] the day that McDonald's [McDonald's Corporation] opened their first restaurant in, near Pushkin Square [Pushkinskaya Square], in Moscow. We were there because we were gonna see Yeltsin [Boris Yeltsin] and (unclear) about a Disney Store, in Russia, in Moscow. The problem was, they wanted us to put it right next to the KGB headquarters in Detskiy Mir which was a children's store in Russia. It's, you don't want me to get into that. But, yeah, we were at Pushkin Square. And Michael said, "Dennis [HistoryMaker Dennis Hightower], what's going on there?" I said, "That's the opening of the store," and, you know, McDonald's was our promotional partner, like they are in the U.S. for all the animated films. There were like thousands of people ringing this small store. I said, "Michael, I want you to look and I want you to observe what's happening." I said, "Here is entrepreneurialism in its purest form." What you will see is that they were letting people in. No restrictions on how many could go in at a time. People were coming out with their bags of whatever, hamburgers, French fries, whatever. And they were selling it to the people who were in line. I said, "That tells you that we can do business here. So despite the repression that people had gone through and lived under," I said, "there are a lot of rubles stuck literally in mattresses waiting to be used. There's pent up demand here, Michael." And sure enough, that's exactly what happened. So when we actually, you know, moved in there and got set up with publishing and some of the other things we did (makes sound), we just took off because the money was there. And the money was there because my deal with Frank was that I would not (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Frank?$$Frank Wells. I was not gonna put Disney [The Disney Company, Burbank, California] at risk. So when my key publisher wanted to come in from Denmark 'cause they had done a lot of business there as well, they had to pay me in German, in Deutsche marks because that was the strongest currency at the time, that they took the currency risk when we brought Nestle [Nestle S.A.], Mattel [Mattel, Inc.] and other, our other major product partners in, they would pay us in the currency of choice that their contract was under, not in rubles. The advertisers, the same way. So even though my plan said we weren't gonna make money for five years, we made money in the first two years of getting it started up because we shipped at risk. And Disney's great for OPM, using other people's money (laughter) you know. But that's again the pound, the brand, you know.$$Were you equally successful in countries like Spain?$$Yeah, I mean those countries had been there. Those were the, those were sort of the core countries. What we did, we took it to another level, took it to another level in terms of product design, product quality, distribution, marketing, taking more control of the brand as Disney whereas before, the licensees basically took charge of the brand. And I said, "Now, we're, you know, that stops today." We started doing value analysis and saying where along the value chain can we stop and bring it back in house and, 'cause we were just leaving too much money on the table, and we were putting the brand at risk 'cause nobody was basically minding the store or minding the brand. So, you know, I ended up buying up almost all of my publishers, and I became the publisher. We set up factories that did clothing where we controlled the design, especially the high end stuff that was several thousand dollars of, you know, in price, and in price points, retail price points. And then we'd get, you know, like Hennes and Mauritz [H and M Hennes and Mauritz A.B.] or CNA [CNA Financial Corporation] or some of the other big retailers, El Corte Ingles [El Corte Ingles S.A.] in Spain to the, sort of the midlines which then complimented the other lines in their business and they also gave us space, two hundred to three hundred square meters of space within their stores so even though I didn't run the Disney stores, I had the special permission from Frank and Michael to set up shop within shops. They weren't stand alones like the Disney Store. They were three hundred square meters where we then controlled the merchandise mix.