This biography is no longer current; at present, no other official Department of State biographical information is available.
Judith A. McHale was Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, helping lead America’s engagement with the people of the world. Appointed by President Obama, she was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on May 21, 2009 and sworn in on May 26.
Ms. McHale is the former president and chief executive officer of Discovery Communications. For two decades, Ms. McHale was a leader in building Discovery Communications, the parent company of the Discovery Channel, into a far-reaching and renowned global media enterprise with 1.4 billion subscribers in 170 countries. She forged partnerships around the world and created innovative strategies that focused on understanding and respecting different cultural contexts and tapping local voices to succeed in diverse markets.
The daughter of a U.S. Foreign Service officer, Ms. McHale was born in New York City and grew up in Britain and apartheid-era South Africa. Her upbringing inspired a life-long commitment to social justice and engagement with development issues, especially in Africa. During these formative years, Ms. McHale’s family home was constantly under police surveillance and was wire-tapped; family friends were detained and mistreated; and she became close with key anti-apartheid activists, including Felicia Kentridge, who founded South Africa’s Legal Resource Centre, and her husband Sidney Kentridge, the noted civil rights lawyer who went on to represent slain anti-apartheid activist Steven Biko.
Ms. McHale graduated from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom and Fordham University School of Law in New York.
In the 1980s, Ms. McHale served as General Counsel for MTV Networks, overseeing legal affairs for MTV, Nickelodeon and VH-1. Drawing on the experience developed over many years living abroad, Ms. McHale became a principal architect of the company’s rapid international expansion.
In 1987, Ms. McHale became General Counsel at Discovery Communications, then a small company with a single U.S. cable channel. She went on to serve as chief operating officer, chief executive officer, and president, helping to grow Discovery into one of the most successful media companies in the world, with more than 100 channels available in 35 languages and distributed to more 1 billion subscribers in over 170 countries. During her tenure as President, Discovery’s revenues increased tenfold, with annual revenues topping $3 billion.
Ms. McHale and others at Discovery understood something important about communicating with people around the world: It makes more sense to engage people internationally on their own terms, in ways that respect their languages and customs, than it does just to bring them warmed-over versions of American programming. Discovery, nearly alone among American media companies that expanded internationally, put respect for cultural context and local voices at the heart of its business and creative strategies. It modified programming to respect viewers’ regional customs and translated – rather than simply subtitled -- into 35 different languages.
Ms. McHale also looked for ways to bring people across the globe together around shared viewing experiences. She led Discovery to launch the highly successful “Watch With The World” specials that provided a primetime television opportunity that could be shared by people everywhere.
Ms. McHale helped forge powerful strategic partnerships, including a landmark alliance in 1998 with the BBC that enabled an innovative marriage of high-quality content and global distribution strength. She also spearheaded numerous acquisitions, including The Learning Channel in 1991 and the Travel Channel in 1997.
As a manager of a rapidly-growing company with thousands of employees and offices in 22 countries, Ms. McHale made it a priority to create a workplace in which employees thrived professionally and personally. Discovery was consistently named one of the best places to work in various rankings, and, in 2004, McHale was honored by Working Mother magazine as a “National Family Champion” for her leadership.
At Discovery, Ms. McHale launched innovative education and development initiatives in the United States and around the world, including the Discovery Channel Global Education Partnership, which provides free educational programming and technological support to more than a half million students at 200 schools and community centers throughout rural Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. Under Ms. McHale’s guidance, Discovery applied to its educational initiatives the same rigorous cultural sensitivity and locally-driven process that made its international business so successful. Before setting up the Discovery Channel Global Education Partnership, Ms. McHale led a “listening tour” into villages in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Uganda, meeting with teachers and local leaders, building trust, and better understanding the particular educational content and technological resources that would best serve those communities.
In 1998, Ms. McHale was appointed by Governor Parris Glendening to a four-year term as a member of the Maryland State Board of Education.
In 2006, after nearly 20 years at Discovery, Ms. McHale started a new phase of her career in partnership with the Global Environment Fund, a private equity firm based in Chevy Chase, MD. Ms. McHale worked to launch the GEF/Africa Growth Fund, an investment vehicle intending to focus on supplying expansion capital to small and medium-sized enterprises that provide consumer goods and services in emerging African markets. Ms. McHale spent considerable amounts of her time visiting key African markets, meeting with entrepreneurs from Lusaka to Dar es Salaam, as she assessed investment opportunities. The work of forming the Fund brought together Ms. McHale’s passion for building businesses with her long engagement with Africa and her own philosophy of “doing well by doing good.”
Ms. McHale has also provided leadership to a range of organizations engaged in global affairs and development. She served on the boards of the Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa, Africare, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the National Democratic Institute, and Vital Voices. In 2008, she was the co-chair of the Platform Committee of the Democratic National Convention.