It’s a well-known fact around DIC Entertainment’s offices that deciphering an e-mail from chair and CEO Andy Heyward is a test of will and patience. Chock full of typos and dotted with random capital letters, it’s obvious Heyward types with only two fingers. At least that’s what Robby London thinks, but then again the executive VP of creative affairs for the Burbank, California-based studio has been friends with Heyward since they were teenagers and has no problem lobbing a gentle jab at the head honcho now and then.
Heyward also tends to be busy doing other things while tapping away on his keyboard, accounting for the rather frantic appearance of his e-mails. ‘He was a multi-tasker before anyone had even coined the phrase,’ London says. And it’s not unusual for Heyward’s e-mails to arrive in the middle of the night in groups of a dozen or more.
This ability to continually juggle tasks and concepts is clearly at the root of Heyward’s success. Even the company he’s been busy building for the past two decades or so has taken on his multi-tasking character. Not only does DIC have a production arm that boasts shows such as Trollz, Inspector Gadget, Strawberry Shortcake, Sabrina and Madeline, it’s also got a full-fledged licensing division that shepherds merch programs for third parties including American Greetings (Strawberry) and McDonald’s. DIC’s also became part of the terrestrial broadcast scene this year, after inking a deal with network titan CBS for its new DIC branded Saturday Morning Secret Slumber Party block.
While news of his business achievements makes the industry trades regularly, the 57-year-old remains a bit of an enigma to anyone not in Heyward’s inner circle. One insider says that he has the attention span of a tsetse fly, and it’s clear from his manner – polite but distracted – that he has little time for indulgent public self-reflection. Quite simply, work is his primary focus. ‘He’s quite happy to talk about anything to do with business but doesn’t like to talk about himself all that much,’ London explains.
That said, he’s an interesting character. Take Heyward’s penchant for eyeglasses, for example. He owns more than 300 pairs and keeps them stored in a special cabinet in his home. In fact, he insists on matching his specs with his tie and socks each day. London says this signature look started up sometime in the mid-’80s and his friend has always had a keen sense of style that dates back to their teenage years. ‘Andy always has his finger on what’s hip, what’s happening,’ he says.
And that sensibility extends beyond fashion to technology. Heyward’s the prototypical early adopter. London recalls the company had intra-office e-mail in the late-’80s, well before anyone had an AOL or Hotmail account. ‘Nobody, I mean nobody, knew what e-mail was at the time,’ London says.
In fact, the devices used to send e-mail were so novel – picture weighty laptops and clunky acoustic telephone couplers – that traveling DIC execs met with lots of stares and puzzled looks while en route. ‘We would be at the airport and people would walk by and think we were spies,’ London says.
But Heyward’s enthusiasm for tech paid off. ‘We’d go to meetings on the East Coast and an hour after we left the meeting, they’d be getting a fax from our office,’ says London. ‘People couldn’t believe how fast we were.’
As to how he ended up in the animation biz and not in the espionage racket (given his penchant for gadgetry), Heyward joined Hanna-Barbera after graduating from UCLA with a philosophy degree in the early 1970s. His father, the late Louis M. (Deke) Heyward, worked in HB’s live-action division and helped him make his entrée into the biz. Heyward junior was keen to put pen to paper and write, but spent six-months working in the warehouse, organizing the storage of cels and creating a system to track the prodco’s extensive development records.
But he was always pitching his ideas to Joe Barbera. ‘Little by little, I was getting in the door,’ Heyward says. Then he got his big break. HB had sold more shows than it had the capacity to produce. ‘[Barbera] grabbed me and said, ‘Kid, you’re working with me this season,’ and that’s how it started.’
The first series he worked on was Scooby’s All Star Laff-A-Lympics, a cartoon spoof of the popular live-action primetime program, Battle of the Network Stars. During this period, Heyward and his team also came up with Scrappy Doo, the plucky nephew of Scooby.
After a short stint working for Hanna Barbera competitor Filmation, Heyward was approached by Radio-Television Luxembourg, the group that owned DIC (Diffusion Information Communication). Based in Paris, DIC had no U.S. presence at the time and exec Jean Chalopin was looking to tap Heyward’s expertise and develop cartoons suitable for the U.S. market.
Heyward’s aptitude for languages (he speaks French, Spanish, German and Japanese) proved handy as he took the plunge and moved to Paris. It was an exciting time, but the relentless pace was punishing. Each month, he would travel from Paris to New York, L.A., Tokyo and Moscow before returning to Paris. ‘It was insane,’ he says.
Realizing selling into the U.S. market from Europe wasn’t going to fly, he returned to the States in 1982. Hanna Barbera and Filmation dominated the market at the time, but Heyward was certain it could handle more programming and competition. Working out of his mom’s apartment in L.A., he and Chalopin managed to sell Inspector Gadget to local affiliates and The Littles to ABC. Their strategy to keep costs down by contracting the work out to animators in Asia seems prophetic in hindsight.
In the mid-’80s, Heyward led the first of two management buyouts at DIC. He’s tireless, often toiling into the wee hours of the morning, but admits getting the fledgling company off the ground wasn’t easy. ‘There were times when I didn’t know whether we’d have money to pay our electrical at the end of the month,’ he says. ‘One thing I can say I’m proud of is that we never missed a payroll.’
To help grow the company and inject some much-needed capital, Heyward sold 50% of DIC to Capital Cities in 1993. Two years later, Disney bought Capital Cities, making for a complicated relationship, Heyward says. ‘A lot of good things came from it but, at the same time, you are part of a much bigger enterprise and you lose some of your entrepreneurial spirit there.’
Since the second buyout in ’96, Heyward hasn’t looked back and it’s been full-speed ahead for DIC, producing and acquiring more content and cementing distribution deals worldwide, across business units to include home video, consumer products and TV. In keeping with Heyward’s tech ethos, DIC got on the streaming mobile video bandwagon early, providing Georgia-based SmartVideo with a mobile-ready version of the DIC Kids Network in Q1 2005.
So how does Heyward motivate his staff to keep the company moving forward, you ask? London describes Heyward’s managerial style as Socratic. He encourages healthy debate, but is also very decisive. ‘He welcomes a challenge and he welcomes creativity,’ chief creative officer Mike Milani says. Heyward is not the type of boss to squash ideas. ‘Andy’s very big into the ‘What if…?’,’ he says. ‘And that really does lead to us trying different things.’
His business sense is well known in the industry. ‘Andy is the last man standing,’ says media investor Haim Saban, who considers Heyward a good friend. ‘He’s like the Energizer bunny – he just doesn’t quit.’ Saban respects Heyward’s passion for the business and attributes much of his success to the fact that he eats, drinks and sleeps cartoons and never stops. ‘Andy is the ultimate cartoon schlepper,’ he says.
Distinguished journalist Walter Cronkite remembers getting a cold call from Heyward asking if he’d like to be the voice of Benjamin Franklin in the 2002 series Liberty’s Kids, a 2-D toon about Colonial America. He investigated Heyward’s background before talking business. ‘[I] learned from everybody I called that he was highly respected,’ Cronkite says. And the series’ approach to teaching children about American history in an authentic yet entertaining manner, really appealed to Cronkite.
Since working on the show together, the retired newscaster and Heyward have become good friends and visit each other three or four times a year. ‘He strikes me as one who is really dedicated to his craft and to his business.’ The veteran anchor adds the program – his first encounter with animation – changed his life. ‘My wife became very fond of Liberty’s Kids and had to get home everyday to watch the episodes,’ he says. ‘It affected our daily calendar.’
Heyward has several other friends in high places. He counts Dexter King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s son and CEO of the King Center, among them. Their work on a feature length animated film, Our Friend Martin, about two time-traveling kids who witness key moments in the life of the civil-rights activist brought them together. And media mogul Ted Turner was also quick to offer a pat on the back after hearing about Heyward’s induction to the KidScreen Hall of Fame. ‘Andy Heyward is a great guy who has done a terrific job,’ he says. ‘I consider him a friend and am delighted to see him receive this well-deserved recognition.’
Heyward isn’t name-dropper, however. He’s more likely to talk about his love of music – he took up piano and guitar a few years ago – and languages than the esteemed people he’s encountered in his line of work. But his main source of pride is his children. ‘Raising good kids with good values is very important to me and probably rises above everything else.’
His three kids have helped him throughout his career. It’s no coincidence that DIC started out producing boys programming and eventually segued into the girls’ domain as his daughter entered the demo for shows such as Madeline and Sabrina. Even the famous show closer featured his eldest son’s voice saying ‘DIC’ and today his daughter has taken over that duty.
The kids also help Heyward with the tried and true kitchen-sink research method, helping him get a bead on kid culture. Recently, his daughter was packing up a cell phone to donate to charity. It was in perfect working order and he questioned her decision. She laughed it off, scoffing the basic device ‘didn’t do anything’ because you couldn’t download games or take pictures with it. That drove home the fact that kids today are very techno-friendly. ‘They’re born into a world of technology and they don’t know anything different,’ Heyward says.
Work and family life certainly occupy much of Heyward’s time, but he makes a concerted effort to give back to his community. He’s on the board for several charities, including the Beverley Hills Children’s Theatre, the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, Mediascope and the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
At 57, he must be thinking about retiring sometime in the next decade so he can enjoy his well-earned rest. Turns out, not so much. ‘I don’t know what I’d do if I retired,’ he says. ‘I can’t picture myself lying on a beach getting a suntan.’ And even when that day comes, he looks to the example set by his father.
Heyward’s dad didn’t spend a lot of time golfing after retiring. Instead, he worked with young offenders in the prison system, ostensibly teaching them how to write but actually teaching them far more, Heyward says. ‘I was really proud of my dad and those are the kinds of things I’d like to be doing.’