Trustee Freston trots globe, works with Oprah, Bono

by Beacon Staff • February 25, 2009

But last year, Freston agreed to both offers and is now part of both Winfrey's new cable channel, OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network and Bono's poverty relief efforts.,For some time, not even Oprah Winfrey or U2 frontman Bono could persuade Emerson College Trustee Tom Freston to collaborate with them after he was fired from Viacom.

But last year, Freston agreed to both offers and is now part of both Winfrey's new cable channel, OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network and Bono's poverty relief efforts.

According to a 2007 Beacon article, Freston was fired unexpectedly as CEO of Viacom in 2006. Shortly afterward, he departed for a trip to Singapore, then went on to Burma, Cambodia, Thailand and then to China, and has since gone from there to visit other countries in Africa and Asia.

Winfrey managed to reach Freston while he was in Burma and invited him to visit her at her home in California. Freston accepted and had breakfast with the talk-show host, but was reluctant to commit to any business proposals, according to the article.

Winfrey met with him a second time, this time with his wife, but Freston still wouldn't give a definite answer to her proposal of collaborating with him to work in her new television network. He accepted last June and is now serving as a consultant for OWN.

"[The new position] sounds like a great fit," said David Rosen, vice-president of public affairs for Emerson College.

Freston has also become involved with two relief organizations lead by longtime friend Bono. He agreed in December 2007 to serve as chairman for the board of directors for ONE, Bono's advocacy institution that campaigns world governments for poverty alleviation, especially in Africa.

Freston is also serving on the board for Bono's RED organization, which asks companies such as Apple to donate part of their revenues to combat AIDS in Africa. Both ONE and another group run by Bono, DATA, were struggling before Freston suggested merging the two. Freston coordinates new staff hirings that included new CEOs for both ONE and RED.

"He provides a great sense of leadership and global experience," said Kathy McKiernan, a spokesperson for ONE. "His experience as a media executive has been invaluable."

She mentioned a trip Freston took to Rwanda last summer with a bipartisan group that included Cindy McCain and Mike Huckabee.

His two new positions will be added to the title he already holds as a member of the board of trustees for Emerson. Freston set up a $1 million fund in 2007 for scholarships for diverse students. He was also the commencement speaker for the graduation ceremony that same year when his son, a former Emerson student, graduated.

"Tom has been a very active and generous trustee who has a special interest in promoting a diverse student body," he said.

The Board of Trustees decides on policies for the college, oversees the finances, chooses the president, and approves the vice-president, according to Rosen. It also approves all academic and honorary degrees given out by Emerson College as well as approving purchases made by the college, giving or denying tenure to professors and decides annual budget and tuition.

Rosen is confident that Freston's additional responsibilities will not affect his role as an Emerson trustee.

"Most trustees hold fulltime positions in the communication and media industries without any problems whatsoever," he said.