Susan Adams

adams Susan

Interview Date: June 21, 1999
Interviewer: Unknown
Collection: WICT 20th Anniversary Series


Susan Adams began her career in cable television in finance, during a time of capital intensive growth in the industry and technological change. In this interview, she relates how women made great strides in public relations, human resources and marketing by the 1990s, but still lagged in advancement in the area of operations. Adams describes her personal success to her ability to recognize opportunity and act upon it. In addition, she was aided by her strong involvement in the Betsy Magness Leadership Institute, which continued well into her presidency of Women in Cable Telecommunications (WICT). She explains her approach to mentoring young people in the industry, based on her own outstanding achievements in her career. While noting some of the unique skills that women could bring to the field of operations, she also speculates on how the changing industry could deliver new opportunities for women, including elimination of the effects of the “glass ceiling.”

Adams predicts what the evolving technological landscape for cable would look like in the 1990s and beyond, including the merging of Internet, telephony, video voice and data. She concludes by describing her management style, the challenges, triumphs and influence of WICT’s work on behalf of women in the industry, and her role in that undertaking.

Interview Transcript

INTERVIEWER: State your name.

SUSAN ADAMS: Susan Adams.

INTERVIEWER: Spell your name.


INTERVIEWER: Company and title.

ADAMS: Cox Communications. Area Manager on Customer Operations. Phoenix, Arizona.

INTERVIEWER: How did you initially become involved in the cable business?

ADAMS: I was working in a very specialized area of accounting with six staff in management and had a relocation from Texas to Arizona with my family. And with all the capital intensive growth in the cable industry, it was a natural match of my skills. So that’s where it started. In finance.

INTERVIEWER: At the time your career in cable began, what was the most striking thing about the industry?

ADAMS: I think the newness of the industry. It was a technology that was just developing. It was becoming widespread across the United States in communities. There was a lot of franchising activity. So it was just the fact that it was such a new and growing industry.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think the newness of the industry offered more opportunities for women?

ADAMS: I think that there have been a lot of opportunities for women in the industry, but there could be quite a bit more opportunity for women. In certain segments of the industry, women have achieved quite a bit. Public relations, human resources, marketing in particular. However, women in operations, which is the segment of the industry that I’ve spent the 13 years in the cable industry, I don’t see as much opportunity for advancement for women in that area. It’s growing, certainly. But we still have a lot more that we can accomplish.

INTERVIEWER: How do you think that end of the industry can encourage more women to begin their careers there?

ADAMS: Well, it’s not just a recruitment issue. It’s a lot like diversity in that regard. It’s also a development issue. And there comes a point in an organization where you just don’t see the diversity of women in positions in operations. So, it’s a long process. It’s not something that’s changed overnight. But certainly the awareness that WICT and others have helped provide in this area is helping us move forward.

ADAMS: Well, it’s not just a recruitment issue. It’s a lot like diversity in that regard. It’s also a development issue. And there comes a point in an organization where you just don’t see the diversity of women in positions in operations. So, it’s a long process. It’s not something that’s changed overnight. But certainly the awareness that WICT and others have helped provide in this area is helping us move forward.

INTERVIEWER: What do you think have been the key elements of your personal success?

ADAMS: I think I’ve relied heavily on my ability to see opportunity and act on it. Certainly, participation in the Betsy Magness Leadership Institute and being one of the fellows in the charter class really allowed me to focus on my leadership style and that’s helped me immensely as I’ve tackled new projects involving change in my companies and in the industry. And I think the other main component is that I’ve had the opportunity to work for two outstanding companies in this industry. The Washington Post Cable Division Cable One and Cox Communications.

INTERVIEWER: What would you say is your greatest professional achievement?

ADAMS: Two come to mind. One achievement has been the people I have been a mentor to and have had the opportunity to work with and develop and seeing them reach their potential quite seriously and look at their achievement. I think the other one, too, has been my involvement in WICT and the trust others put in a leader of WICT in all of its programs.

INTERVIEWER: Can you talk about how you approach mentorship? I mean, what sort of advice do you give young people in the industry?

ADAMS: I think I try to focus on things that I learned in my career. Focusing on seeing opportunity. Taking advantage of it. Being ready when it’s your turn. Something I learned on the golf course, interestingly enough. But, I’ve applied a lot to operations in this industry. And I think it’s to be flexible and try to approach change without fear.

INTERVIEWER: Did you have any role models in your career that hold a special meaning for you?

ADAMS: Several. I had the pleasure to work for a gentleman with Cable One for over ten years. And he was an incredible mentor to me. But I also have existing peers who are mentors. Jill Campbell, Vice President and General Manager of the Cox System in Los Vegas is someone who has recently come to be a mentor in my career and has provided me great insight on her very special style of leadership.

INTERVIEWER: Obviously, there have been rapid changes in the business. How do you see the industry developing in the next five to ten years?

ADAMS: I see us having a period of change for quite some time in the next five to ten years. I see our products becoming defined as we invest more heavily in the Internet businesses and the telephone businesses. I see distinctions between products perhaps merging with Internet and telephony, different devices being used in the customer’s home to receive video voice and data. Transitions between digital e-commerce and Internet businesses. So, I see the products defining themselves, but I also see them perhaps coming together at some point in time based on the technologies deployed. As I said, I see us going through quite a bit of change. And I see the need for education with a rapid technological change in the industry being very important to allow us to move forward.

INTERVIEWER: Are you satisfied with the progress that women have made in the industry?

ADAMS: I am pleased that we have made progress. If we have to ask that question, then I’m not satisfied with the progress. As I think I mentioned when I spoke about operations, there is still a lot to do in some areas. I think the changes in the industry; the new start-up companies will provide more opportunities for women. But I think we are looking probably at more change, more movement between companies, less tenure with companies than we’ve enjoyed in the past.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think that parity will be achieved within the next ten or fifteen years?

ADAMS: I definitely think it’s possible. If we focus on parity in the work place, all different types of culture and diversity within a work place, and focus not just on recruitment, but also internal development, building the awareness, I think, is the key to moving that forward. We have a generation of people perhaps who still need to be educated in that area. And when we have cycled through that generation, so to speak, then I think it will no longer be an issue and we will be onto other missions.

INTERVIEWER: Right now there’s a lot of talk in the early ’90s about this glass ceiling. Do you believe there ever was a glass ceiling? And if so, does it still exist?

ADAMS: I look at the glass ceiling a little bit differently. From my perspective, I think 20 years ago, there were a lot of barriers. A lot of different barriers for women. I don’t think nearly as many of those barriers exist today. So, in that regard, we’ve made substantial progress. I think the barriers are different depending on the individual and what issues they faced and what segment of the industry that they’ve been working in. I would like to see more of those barriers removed in the future. I think that we’ve made progress, but there’s still a scarcity of positions, very senior positions in companies that are held by women. And it is not just a recruitment issue. This type of situation is cured, I think, with awareness and recruitment efforts and development efforts. The women that are in these positions need to be developed. And have the skills, as well as the environment, in which they can proceed.

INTERVIEWER: You’re an operator and there are fewer women on the operation end of the cable industry. Has being a woman in this section of the industry been a detriment or an enhancement to your career?

ADAMS: Oh, I think it’s definitely been an enhancement. I love operations in this industry and I think women bring some unique skills to operations. I think they’re very good at it where they have the opportunity to do so and people will think of them as good operations and line management individuals. I think they bring consensus building skills for the most part, a flexibility, a responsiveness to change. Boy, I hope that there’ll be more of us in the future.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think your management style has evolved over the last 13 years?

ADAMS: Oh, absolutely. Partly by learning from others, is one way my management style has changed. Definitely through my participation in the Betsy Magness Leadership Institute. It’s given me a whole new group of women to share experiences with and help me hone in on my leadership style.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think that women have been adequately recognized for the contributions they’ve made for the industry.

ADAMS: No, actually, I don’t think that there’s been enough recognition for women in the development of this industry. I think WICT celebrating its 20th anniversary is going to help us immensely with that. And we have some new programs going forward to recognize the achievement for women in the industry. I think that will help with the awareness issues for women in this industry immensely.

INTERVIEWER: I’d like to ask you now about your tenure as president. And you know, your presidency coincides with WICT’s 20th anniversary. Does this have any special meaning for you?

ADAMS: Well, what a privilege and what an exciting time. I’m six months at this point into my presidency this year. And it’s always very humbling to look back at the organization 20 years ago. But it’s also very exciting to look forward to the future and what our industry will be like 20 years from now.

INTERVIEWER: How do you see WICT evolving in the next few years?

ADAMS: Well, I think one of the challenges we’ve had with WICT this year and in the last couple of years is to constantly evolve in making sure we know what the needs of our members are. So, I see us having to continually keep mindful of what our members need. What will enhance women’s issues in the industry? And then fulfill that need in member programs, benefiting our members and benefiting the industry as a whole.

INTERVIEWER: How did you initially become involved in WICT?

ADAMS: A good friend of mine in the cable and telecommunications industry told me I needed to be a member. She told me to join. And she had always been a source of excellent advice, so I did. And it was only after that, that I came to see the real benefit of this organization.

INTERVIEWER: How has WICT contributed to your personal and your professional growth?

ADAMS: I have certainly met a lot of women that I have learned from in my involvement with the program. But I definitely have benefited from the participation in the program myself, including the Betsy Magness Leadership Institute.

INTERVIEWER: Did you have any sense, when you were part of that first class, that this was some significant moment in WICT’s history?

ADAMS: Oh, absolutely. Because the benefit of the program was incredible. And immediately at the end of the program, we were all concerned about the program being over after one year. I kind of bridged that by becoming very involved with the future development of the program. And it’s been one of my great passions.

INTERVIEWER: Have you seen the program changing at all?

ADAMS: To some extent. The focus is still the same in terms of helping women refine their leadership style. But the module and the needs of the women have changed. And so, therefore, some of the programming elements have changed.

INTERVIEWER: How specifically do you think women’s needs have changed in the industry over the last ten to fifteen years?

ADAMS: I think we’ve been able to focus on some basic issues for women in the industry and isolate them and are embarking on research with the foundation to address issues in terms of gender communications and other topics. So, I think that’s a telling sign. That we are able to isolate some of those issues. So, that’s progress there.

INTERVIEWER: I know a lot of young people entering the industry today are concerned about balancing their professional and their personal life. Do you have any advice?

ADAMS: Well, I won’t say that I’ve been the role model in that area. But a couple of things I try to practice all the time. I have three children. Thirteen, eight and four. I try to involve my children in the organization and any type of work that I’m doing. I always try to make sure–and this is one of my two pieces of advice–I always try to make sure that I’m there for the important things. Someone told me when my oldest child was in pre-school that they remember that you were there for this particular Christmas program. And they do. They remember it for a long time and talk about that. So, I make sure I’m there for the signature events, so to speak. In addition to spending other time with my family. The other thing that I do is I use technology to its fullest extent. Whether I’ve been on leave of absence after the birth of a child, I’ve made sure I’ve had the tools at home to be able to respond when it was warranted so I didn’t have the additional stress of having to run to Kinko’s to send a fax or use a computer or something else. And I think having the technology readily available to facilitate those types of things has helped keep it manageable.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think the industry has become increasingly more receptive to work life issues in the last ten years?

ADAMS: I think there’s a much greater awareness and there are certainly some companies that have been recognized for their work in that area. I think we’ll see more of it as the technology advances to be of great benefit to working families.

INTERVIEWER: How do you see WICT influencing the industry at large?

ADAMS: I think WICT does that in two ways. One is we’ve been very successful at building awareness around women’s issues and translating that into benefit for the companies in this industry. So we’re benefiting not only our members, but also the companies in the industry. I think the other area where we have been of great support to the industry is the research that we’ve done on the women’s issues which has helped support the awareness initiatives.

INTERVIEWER: Well, I know you’ve only been president for six months, but is there anything that you’ve been particularly proud of, maybe, during your time on the board or as president? Is there a particular memorable event from your year as president or from your experience on the board?

ADAMS: Well, certainly, celebrating the 20th anniversary is quite an exciting thing to do. I think I’ve been most proud of the work I’ve done to continue developing the Betsy Magness Leadership Institute with the board. And I think the participation in the strategic planning because, you know, it’s kept the organization viable and of greater benefit to members.

INTERVIEWER: Could you speak to the diversity initiative?

ADAMS: Well, I see the diversity initiative having some very similar qualities or issues as women’s issues. And again, I think that the key to that is building awareness for the issues, providing resources, research, and information on successful programs in other companies. Being the collector of all that information and the organization that chronicles all that for others to use. And I see a great opportunity for WICT to focus in its programs on developing women and giving them additional skills to help them achieve their goals.

INTERVIEWER: And how do you think WICT has influenced the industry at large?

ADAMS: I think WICT has influenced the industry at large in many different ways on a lot of issues. From work force 2000 to work life initiatives to gender communications to other future research projects. We contemplate the awareness we felt in the industry has been a key factor in the success women have and the relative ease in which they have been able to achieve it. It certainly would have been a much harder route to achieve and much more difficult for women to advance were these things not in place.

INTERVIEWER: And how do you see WICT as different from other professional associations?

ADAMS: I think there’s a tendency for people to compare WICT to other associations in our industry. And many of them are very different. They’re either trade associations with a lobbying interest or they are specialized in terms of marketing in the industry. But WICT’s role is very unique in terms of being an association which addresses women’s issues and their opportunities for advancement.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you would like to add about your experience with WICT or the industry?

ADAMS: I’ve enjoyed my experience with WICT. I’ve found that the more I contribute, the more I benefit in return. So, it’s been a great partnership. And I’ve been appreciative of the opportunity to be so involved with WICT. And I look forward to doing that in the future. I am looking 20 years ahead and looking back on where we are now.

INTERVIEWER: Great. Thank you.

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