Departing Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros will become the new president and chief operating officer of Los Angeles-based Univision Communications Inc., which runs the country's leading Spanish-language broadcast network.
Industry sources said the appointment of the high-profile Washington insider and Latino leader would lend credibility with viewers and help open even more doors with advertisers as Univision continues its aggressive assault against its struggling competitor, Telemundo.
Cisneros said A. Jerrold Perenchio, who controls Univision, called to offer him the job after he announced plans to leave the Clinton administration in November.
"There were few positions in which I could continue to have some influence on the Latino community," said Cisneros, 49, who said he would relocate to Los Angeles and start his new job in February. "I'll be assisting the company in finding its way into the mainstream of American life."
"It's a brilliant public relations move," said one TV executive. "Cisneros is very charismatic and has tremendous ties with the Latino community. He can get out there and talk to the Hispanic audience in a way that [current management] cannot."
Perenchio is not Latino. He will remain chairman and chief executive of the company and had previously held the title of president as well.
Perenchio formed Univision in 1992 with backing from Grupo Televisa, Mexico's largest television producer, and took the company public in September. He was unavailable for comment on Thursday.
But in a statement, Perenchio said, Cisneros' "presence alone will serve to elevate the position that Univision occupies in both the Hispanic community and among the leading communications companies in this country."
Wall Street expressed its approval, driving up Univision stock on the New York Stock Exchange $1.25 on Thursday to $36.375. At its initial public offering in September, shares closed at $31.50.
Through a network of 39 television stations and hundreds of cable affiliates, Univision, which owns 18 stations, reaches 92% of U.S. Latino households. It controls about 80% of Spanish-language viewership overall, according to the company, in part because of its long-term agreements with Televisa for exclusive rights to its popular soap operas and programs.
In recent Nielsen ratings, Univision has routinely outpaced English-language networks during key time periods in major U.S. markets such as Los Angeles, on KMEX-TV Channel 34, and Miami. In Los Angeles, KMEX's 6 p.m. newscast reaches a larger audience than any of the network newscasts.
Yet analysts say the company has had difficulty translating those big numbers into proportionate advertising revenue.
"Many advertisers don't know the power of the medium," Cisneros said. "They don't realize that incomes and purchasing power of this group are rising."
After the turn of the century, one in every four Americans will be Latino.
Cisneros, a former mayor of San Antonio, is credited with reviving the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development during his four-year term. He created new programs to build better low-income housing and helped move homeownership rates toward the record level of 1980.
Cisneros said he decided to serve only one term in the Clinton administration because he needed to seek a higher-paying job outside government to support two children in college. Adding to his financial pressure is the continuing investigation, launched in 1992, by an independent counsel of possible false statements he made to the FBI during a background check about payments he made to a former mistress, Linda Medlar.
In his new job, Cisneros is expected to make far more than the $148,400 he made annually serving in the Clinton Cabinet.
After serving as San Antonio's mayor from 1981 to 1989, Cisneros was CEO and chairman of the board of Cisneros Asset Management Co., a minority-owned asset management firm specializing in bond market investments.