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Who's Baba Booey to Your Howard Stern?

After hiring his own Gary Dell'Abate, an entrepreneur reflects on the need for a tested and loyal general manager.
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The Howard Stern Show on Sirius XM is funny. It's smart. It's filthy at times. It's addictive. For more than 30 years Stern, has entertained tens of millions of listeners with detailed stories of his life, unequalled interviews with the biggest names around and an ongoing soap opera of characters and staff that give the show its own unique personality.

But the show is also a business. Big business. It generates enormous amounts of advertising revenues and subscriber fees to Sirius XM from fans who (like my wife and I, a school teacher and CPA/business owner) would likely not subscribe to the satellite service if it weren't for Stern. The show reaches millions of listeners, employs dozens and has become a go-to place for A-list celebrities like Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, Quentin Tarantino and Jimmy Fallon to share the most intimate details of their lives in exchange for plugging their products.

Stern is, of course, the focal point. But, like any business, the operations of the show rest squarely on the shoulders of its executive producer, Gary Dell'Abate, aka "Baba Booey.”

Who's your Baba Booey?

Dell'Abate (pronounced Dell-ah-bah-tay) has been the show's producer since 1984. He would be the first person to admit that he's far from perfect. His legendary mistakes have included losing tapes and materials, mispronouncing words, misinterpreting directions, mismanaging his staff and humiliatingly being captured on video taking a nap in his office.

And of course there was "The Pitch" (Stern and Mets fans know what I mean). These and other blunders have been the focus of Stern's rants and a huge part of the show's hilarity over the years. But Dell'Abate has stuck to the job, and Stern has stuck with him. He has become instrumental to the show's success. Not just because the fans love him. But because he's the guy who gets things done.

Every successful business I know like the Stern show has someone like Baba Booey. There's the talent: the personable CEO, the strong leader, the face of the company. There's the staff: the ones who do the accounting, close sales, serve customers, ships products. And there's the person in between: the vice president of operations, the general manager, the Baba Booey. Stern, of course, is a talented on-air personality. But comedy aside, he was smart enough early in his career to understand his limitations and recognize the need for a loyal, hard-working, task-oriented person at his side. People like this aren't found. They're developed. And Stern did a few things right to develop Baba Booey into a valuable asset.

From the time he hired the 23 year old "Boy Dell'Abate," Stern tested his new producer's loyalty. Some bosses make the mistake of not telling their key people when they're doing something wrong. I'm confident that Dell'Abate would have little reason to accuse his boss of doing that. Stern made Dell'Abate the focal point for anything that went wrong in the show's operations. He berated him on the air. He made fun of his appearance. Every fault was held up to public scrutiny, every goof was turned into a comedy bit. Of course this makes for great entertainment. But the Stern Show's culture of mercilessly piling on someone when a mistake was made also did something else: It tested loyalty. It demonstrated commitment and perseverance. And Dell'Abate was asked to pass that test, again and again. Do you have that kind of loyalty from your key people? Are you giving feedback and testing their commitment to the cause?

Stern also returned the loyalty. He gave him authority. Stern heaped responsibilities on Dell'Abate and made it clear that Dell'Abate was the guy in charge of the show's day-to-day production. He stood by Dell'Abate's decisions. "Talk to Dell'Abate," he frequently says. "Dell'Abate will handle it." He made a commitment to Dell'Abate and took him (and the other key members of the program) wherever he went, from station to station. He let him make his mistakes, not just because it provided great fodder for the show but because he understood that it's the only way to learn. Dell'Abate, to his credit, learned from his faults. Slowly, but surely, he grew with the job. And with that growth came more respect from his boss. Oh, we still hear about his mistakes because they make good radio. But even Stern has become better at praising his executive producer, only recently rewarding Dell'Abate with two weeks of not mentioning his "constant throat clearing" as a reward for organizing Stern's successful birthday party.

Stern also invested. He hasn't pinched pennies. He's never been greedy. He's paid Dell'Abate well, and Baba Booey jokes aside, has elevated him to a level envied by any producer in radio (or TV, for that matter). Stern has gone out of his way to negotiate enough resources to enable his executive producer to do his job: equipment, technology and staff. He's realized from the beginning that no one can do their job without the right amount of financial support. If you're not giving this kind of support to your Baba Booey then blame no one else when things don't happen like they should. 

Like Stern, I recently came to realize my own limitations. I'm a salesperson and the image of my company. But for years I've needed someone that I can rely on to actually get things done. And I hired that person about nine months ago. The decision was hard. And expensive. And taking some time to pay off. I've been doing my best to give him honest feedback, test his loyalty and provide him with enough resources. And things seem to be going well. Yes, I think I've also found my Baba Booey. Best of all, he even knows how to properly throw a baseball. What, you didn't think I'd check that out?

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Feb 11, 2014

GENE MARKS | Columnist | Owner, Marks Group

Gene Marks is a columnist, author, and small-business owner. He oversees the Marks Group, a 10-person technology consultancy to small and medium-size businesses. A certified public accountant, Marks has also worked in the entrepreneurial services arm of KPMG. He writes for The New York Times, Forbes, and The Huffington Post.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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