Laureen Ong ’74 knows better than anyone that the days of passive television viewing are gone. Today’s viewers watch their favorite shows with the expectation of gaining something from the experience or being motivated to take action. “What we do is inspire you,” says Ong, who took over as president of the Travel Channel in April 2010 after three years as chief operating officer for Star Limited Group, a global television network based in Hong Kong. She joined Star Limited after six years as founding president of the National Geographic Channel, where she expanded the channel’s digital and new media platforms.
“If people are watching Tony Bourdain in Vietnam [on the Travel Channel’s No Reservations], they may want to stay where Tony stayed, and do what Tony did, and they can get all that information on our website,” Ong explains. The Travel Channel is owned by Scripps Network Interactive, which also owns HGTV, Food Network, DIY Network, and others. “These channels are different than general entertainment networks,” she says. “We are about creating a lifestyle, and there’s a takeaway and learning in everything we do.”
Teaching is in Ong’s blood, even though she didn’t become a math teacher—as she intended—after graduating from Montclair State. Her life took a different turn when she seized an opportunity that ultimately would set the foundation for her successful career in television. “I had a teaching job lined up for September,” she explains, “but I needed a summer job, so I took a position as a receptionist at a small independent television network.” She focused on being the best receptionist she could be. When the opportunity for advancement came, she jumped at the chance, offered to train the new receptionist, and put herself side-by-side with the employee who could teach her the most.
“It’s all about attitude and going the extra mile,” says Ong, who, at 58, says it’s important to continually reinvent who you want to be and what you want to do. “You have to have drive and remember to be the best at whatever it is you choose.”