For the Common Good: Tim Warner receives ShowEast Humanitarian Award

Cinemas Features

“I feel very blessed to work in such a great industry and to have done so with such terrific people throughout my career.” Inspirational words from Tim Warner, former CEO of Cinemark and currently a consultant for Cinemark Holdings, Inc.. “I continue to be involved with Cinemark to ensure that there is a really smooth transition and I am so very proud of what we built in Cinemark and of the ongoing management team at Cinemark today. It’s really a great company and I have just been extremely blessed.”

At ShowEast 2016, the blessings continue as Warner receives the Salah M. Hassanein Humanitarian Award for being an “individual in the industry that has made an impact in the philanthropic community,” organizers noted. “Tim is such a deserving person to be recognized with this honor,” said Andrew Sunshine, VP of The Film Expo Group, which manages ShowEast. “We could not have found a better individual to recognize at this year’s convention.”

“I actually met Salah when I was 23 or 24 years old,” Warner recalls—before admitting “that was almost 50 years ago. I have known Salah well over the years. Now, I am so very honored to receive this award in his name while being recognized for broader industry efforts that go beyond just my business background. It is indeed a great honor.”

What Tim Warner humbly calls “broader industry efforts” includes leadership of NATO of California and spearheading the former ShoWest convention, “where I started to see the industry’s total impact on our society and the media on a global basis,” as its general chairman. Most importantly, however, his contributions to worthy causes are being cited by his industry peers. “I have always been pretty impressed with how this industry has served tremendously to charity and done good work,” Warner declares. “From my personal background—my father was a miner, died very young and left my mother with eight children to raise—I was on the receiving end of charity growing up. So I always appreciate the opportunity to give back.”

Asked about his favorite industry charity, Warner mentions the Will Rogers Pioneers Fund. “We tend to take care of our own and to provide a backup for people that do fall on hard times,” he asserts. “The Pioneer Fund really helps immeasurably. We have assisted many people and their families. I don’t know what would have happened to some of them without the support that the Pioneer Fund provided.”

In those charitable endeavors, “I really benefited by working at Cinemark, a company which was founded by Lee Roy Mitchell, who has a really strong sense of giving back. There was never any question, either as a company or as an employee, that we had an obligation to give back.”

Warner takes great pride in the Cinemark family and team becoming “the number-one seller in the industry of Gold Heart pins for Variety-The Children’s Charity. Cinemark runs great fundraisers for Will Rogers, and through our golf tournament we raise hundreds of thousands every year—and millions of dollars over its lifetime—that we give back to charity. We always select three or four food banks as well. That goes back to my own background and to understanding the importance of trying to help the poor with food. Personally, I am a very active Catholic and involved in many church causes.”

In his groundbreaking activities for Cinemark throughout Latin America (culminating in 1,278 screens and 178 theatres today), Warner was actively looking to help out as well. “I joined Cinemark to build an international exhibition company and…through my involvement in Latin America, I fell in love with the people and their culture. When I stepped down at Cinemark, I became executive chairman of ILUMNO. This institution is focused on providing access to high-quality education and otherwise expanding education throughout Latin America. We are up to about 250,000 students,” he adds with obvious pride in his voice. And deservedly so. “It is a company that is doing a lot of social good. More of a social enterprise, successful and mission-driven.”

Asked what drives him, Warner notes, “I actually come from very small exhibition roots.” As he is best known for his decades-long work at Cinemark, we asked him to tell our readers about the first part of his career. “Based in Montana, we owned Theatre Operators Inc., a small network of theatres, together with some other partners and great friends: Ross Campbell—his son Bill Campbell currently heads up the small exhibition efforts at NATO—and Bob Tankersely and Doug Williams. Then I operated a film booking and buying agency for independently owned theatres. So, by the end of the first half, my career was really focused on the small exhibition area. After that, through my involvement with our trade association, I became much more aware of the broader interests and perspectives of the industry.”

Going back further, the foundations for Warner’s involvement with exhibition were laid at the Fox Theatre in Butte, Montana (now Mother Lode). “I worked there as the janitor and assistant manager for over nine years,” though his start in the business occurred even earlier. “Back then they didn’t have labor laws,” Warner prefaces the tale of his discovery. “When I was around nine or ten years old, the manager caught me sneaking into the Rialto Theatre. He said, ‘Look, I’ll give you a pass to the theatre if you’ll start working for it.’ So I did get passes for putting handbills on cars. And then I went from there.” He chuckles at the memory. “They still had a job called pageboy back then. I was dressed up all the way, with a little pillbox hat, just like all the ushers used to do. My job was to sweep up the lobby without making any noise that would disturb the audience. That got me going into the business. I worked in all phases on my way through grade school, high school and college. I actually graduated in education, but I decided to stay with and where I first liked to work.”

As a man with such a deeply rooted past in our industry, Tim Warner is the perfect expert to ask about its future. “I always have so much confidence in the industry. I have never been a doubter of our industry, and especially so ever since I got involved in the global marketplace.”

That said, he admits to having encountered doubters and doubt along the way. “When I was just a 13-, 14-year-old working around the theatre, I could hear the management talk about what was going on. First they said, ‘Well, we don’t have to worry about TV, because it’s black-and-white.’ But when color TV arrived, the big panic hit. And then home video hit, and the Internet… So I have gone through all the stages of panic in this industry. Yet I have never seen any real setbacks. You know, we have always been part of a growth story. Yes, the industry had its ups and downs, certainly, but it is actually a very stable industry.” As for the reason, Warner believes that “we’ve had great industry leaders, both on the exhibition and the distribution side, guiding this business.”

That continued guidance is “what is really important for the industry,” he insists. “I got to benefit from all that wisdom and history that people like Salah shared.” From the other side as well, “I always received great attention when I went out to visit with the studios in my roles, either as a small exhibitor or in my role working for small exhibitor groups within NATO… I always got a real, fair hearing and was able to get everybody focused on what we had to do as an industry. And, as the head of one of the top companies in the exhibition world, I was also able to bring that perspective to the common table too.”

What has Warner concerned these days is that everything is becoming more corporate. “The people that do not know that history or do not share that long-term perspective of our industry, from both the exhibition and from the distribution sides, might not understand how important it is that we work together for the common success.” Taking the broader industry perspective, Tim Warner leaves us with parting words of wisdom: Instead of thinking short-term or just focusing on one segment alone, “we need to count on the history of working together between the studios and the exhibition community for the good of the overall industry.”