Interview Date: December 3, 2015
Interview Location: New York City, NY USA
Interviewer: Seth Arenstein
Collection: Cable Center Oral and Video History Collection
Arenstein: Hi, I’m Seth Arenstein for the Hauser Oral History Project for the Cable Center. We’re here in New York City. It’s December 3, 2015, and I’m joined by Bright House’s Nomi Bergman. Nomi, it’s so much fun to be here with you today because we’ve known each other a long time. I reported about you many, many years ago, and you were so good to me. You’re so good to the press. You have such a great reputation in this industry. There’s not a person who has said a bad word about you. And the thing is you are so respected in so many different ways: your technological prowess, your being a woman in technology. The volunteering and mentoring you have done. It’s going to be very difficult to get all this in in one hour! But we will try. So welcome. It’s great to have you here.
Bergman: Thank you so much, Seth. Thanks for those kind words. It’s very kind of you, very nice.
Arenstein: It’s true, though.
Bergman: Thank you.
Arenstein: I mean as a reporter, you certainly know the people in the industry, you find out who is helpful and who’s cooperative and who’s a go-to. And as far as I’m concerned, as a member of the trade press, it was always you in terms of so many of the things we just said.
Let’s talk a little bit about your childhood, because I know that was a fun part of your life, and where you grew up, your relationship with your dad and your brother. Where did it all start? Where were you born?
Bergman: I was born in Birmingham, Alabama. That helped during my years in Charlotte because I could count as a Southerner. They only care about where you were born. I was born in Birmingham, Alabama. My father worked for a TV and radio station at the time. Then we moved to St. Louis, and then to Syracuse. So I really grew up in Syracuse.
Arenstein: You grew up in Syracuse.
Bergman: I did. It’s been a really special place to grow up. It’s a town where you can really raise a family with a very nice quality of life. Of course I’ve now moved back to Syracuse so I’ve gotten a feeling of what it’s like as a parent as well and it is a really wonderful community.
Arenstein: You went to high school in Syracuse?
Arenstein: Then to college; where did you go?
Bergman: I did. And actually one funny thing about the high school—I went to Jamesville-Dewitt High School and there are so many, believe it or not, cable executives who went to Jamesville-Dewitt High School. Obviously my brother and myself. Also, John Keib of Time Warner Cable. Mike Munley, also of Time Warner Cable, Brian Goldberg and David Zagin of A&E. I think there are some others, too. When I told the superintendent the school was a breeding ground for cable professionals, she was not impressed.
I went to college at University of Rochester. I loved it there. I always say it was probably the second best decision of my life, with the best being my husband, selecting my husband. I really loved my time at Rochester. It’s a really wonderful, warm, supportive environment and it gave me a great opportunity to learn and take risks and I’m always forever grateful to University of Rochester.
Arenstein: What did you study at Rochester?
Bergman: I thought I was going to be a math major. I loved math in high school. I was on the math team. That was the only team I was ever on. Actually that’s worth a side story which is that I was always teased by my brother for only being on the math team. He would ask me if the number on the back of my shirt was the square root of 3. That was painful. So I loved math and I thought I would be a math major but I ended up studying statistics and economics.
Arenstein: So your first job out of college was where?
Bergman: I worked at Arthur Andersen in their consulting division in Stamford, Connecticut. It was a lot of fun. It was a great place to work, great training ground, a wonderful people. There I learned much about a robust work ethic. I remember my very first day on the job, nobody left as it became the dinner hour and as it became eight, nine, ten at night—everyone was still there. So I stayed and I think…I got my work ethic from my family, but also from Arthur Andersen.
Arenstein: So what time did they end up leaving? Ten or eleven o’clock at night?
Bergman: It was around ten or eleven at night.
Arenstein: Did this happen every night or just the first day?
Bergman: It did. It did. They were very dedicated. That was a project where we were writing a payroll system for IBM. Then probably the largest project I worked on at Arthur Andersen was a project to help UPS to be able to ship internationally. So we designed and wrote the systems to do that. It was very exciting. It was exciting to work side by side with the people of UPS who are really proud employees and owners of their company.
Arenstein: Now a good friend of yours, Peter Stern, once said about you was that you were “swaddled” in HFC [hybrid fiber coaxial] cable, I think. But I’m not sure that’s true. I think it’s apocryphal. But how did you get into the cable industry? How did you first get in?
Bergman: You know, I did grow up hearing about cable always so I really—Peter’s comment is very endearing. But I was very determined to have to work outside my family’s business, so I did work at Arthur Andersen. A cousin of mine, Mark Newhouse, who was general manager of the New York Star-Ledger at the time, was overseeing a small group of consultants called the “Systems Group,” within the Newhouse companies. And what that group did is it provided a mechanism to share learning experiences about the newer investments and systems. So every time I would see Mark, he would tease me and ask me why I wasn’t working at the Systems Group. He asked me to come and spend a day with him at the Systems Group to learn more about it. I was very intrigued and I loved my cousin and loved spending time with him. As time wore on, at one point he faced a shortage. He lost two key employees. So he turned up the pressure on me to come and work at the Systems Group. I did make that change. I went to the Systems Group and then my father began to give the Systems Group more cable work. So I was at the Systems Group doing work for the newspapers and magazines and as time went on, more and more the cable companies.
My work with the cable companies grew over time with the Systems Group. It grew to a point where I realized I had a decision to make—whether I wanted to work fulltime on a very large project that was emerging for the cable companies; it was a billing conversion. It was really whether I wanted to dedicate myself to this billing conversion or stay at the Systems Group. I ended up dedicating myself to a billing conversion for a couple of years.
Arenstein: The thing about your career as I look at it—and I know we’ve talked about it, too—is that you’re like a lifelong learner. You just love to learn about things in different settings. What were some of the first things you learned about the cable system growing up in your household? Your father said something very interesting that I read. He said, “People don’t want to watch 500 channels. They just want to watch one channel.” Now he said this—at least in our notes—a good six or seven years ago. Is that still the case?
Bergman: He did say that. He might even have said it well before then. I think he might have said that ten or fifteen years ago. He said that a long time ago and he, as we all now see, he was so right; that people don’t really care about the volume of channels. They really care about—I think he said, “People want to watch what they want to watch when they want to watch it.” And really that’s how our technologies have now evolved is to fulfill that dream. I think he was very right.
Arenstein: And he said this before the digital era; you’re right. He said this in the analog era.
Arenstein: So what was it like growing up in that household where, as Peter Stern said, you were swaddled in HFC cable.
Bergman: Right, right. I could tell so many stories about that but maybe one I would share about my father. One story that I learned about him that I’ve always maintained throughout my business career was that he’s very good about when he hears a good idea, if he hears you say a good idea, he will remember that and he’ll keep asking you about it until you’ve taken care of it. So as a kid, you can imagine if I said, “Maybe I’ll try such and such.” He would ask me about it all the time until I did it. He’s like that in business, too. If somebody has a good idea, he’s like a steel trap door. He’s going to make sure that that idea happens. So he really is all about execution and making things happen and not forgetting a good idea. So I do feel like I’ve learned that from him and I admire that in my father. Now I can watch him do it and smile. But sometimes as a kid it was…
Arenstein: Not as much fun. I can understand it. Let me ask you this; I have to ask this. Now that you are running Bright House, is there any time when you’re sitting there and you’re looking at your desk or you’re looking at a problem and you go, “Gee, I wonder what my father would say about this.” And you’d get on the phone and call…do you do that? Do you call Dad to find out, to get his advice?
Bergman: Right. You know, my father really has removed himself from the day to day operation of Bright House. And so we don’t call him about day to day advice from Bright House. But I would say with that, it’s more that I think, what would my father do? I can hear his voice so clearly in my mind. I think I often think about what would he do and then I try to stay true to that. So that’s probably more impactful than if we call him all the time. But we do talk all the time and we probably often talk more about our kids and our life. He’s very interested in making sure that our kids have a good start in life.
Arenstein: So he’s a good grandfather.
Bergman: He loves being a grandfather. He does.
Arenstein: I’m sure he does. Tell us about your family. You’re married and you have children. What are their ages? What are their names? What do they do? What do they like to do?
Bergman: That’s very nice, Seth. So I have a husband, Neal Bergman, and I would say about Neil, he’s been my—other than of course my family and extended family—he’s been my greatest cheerleader. He’s always a supporter and I think that that’s really allowed me to have quite a robust career. He’s always wanting me to do more and push myself further and he’s always proud of me. He’s just really a true, true cheerleader for me and really believes in me. I would say that’s been such a key part of my success has been his steadfast support. I am so grateful to him.
We have three daughters. The oldest is Rebecca, who’s 23 and Dori, who just turned 20, and Allie, who’s 15. So we have one at home right now—Allie, who’s a sophomore in high school. They’re all so wonderful, and incredibly different from one another. Certainly it’s the best part of my life, raising three wonderful daughters.
Arenstein: OK, let’s transition from thinking about them and thinking of the kind of world they are looking at today and the opportunities there are for women in technology, in fields that twenty or thirty years ago were not for women, as they would have said, probably. You were a trailblazer there. You were one of the first. What was it like? What kind of hurdles did you have to overcome as a woman to be accepted in the technology field?
Bergman: That’s a very interesting question. Maybe I would start with a story. There was a time when I had gone back to work at the cable company and my father asked me to assemble the two technology leaders of at each of our three cable companies at the time: NewChannels, Vision and Metrovision. This is when we were all making decisions about investments in HFC. When we install fiber, how deep should we install the fiber and what size nodes should we build? He asked me to assemble the technology leaders at the three companies to make that decision. It was very clear to me that I was working with some unbelievable talent and I’m sure they were looking at me and wondering, “Why are you pulling together this meeting?” And I think that’s in part because I was a woman; also in part because I was young and less experienced than they were. That was also rare for me. I would say I was rarely put in a situation like that. Usually I was working on the ground floor, but this was a special project and a significant investment for our company. I learned something at that meeting that I’ve taken with me forever, which was that the expectations of me were so low in a meeting like that, right? You had these talented engineers who didn’t think I understood anything—not that I did. But they had very low expectations for my contributions to this effort. And I think just by being a good listener, by being an avid learner, I could add value to the discussion. I think instead of kind of going in with a chip on my shoulder—like why do they have such low expectations of me and I’m going to prove differently than them—by going in more with an open mind and an open heart to learn from them and to work hard, I think I was able to add value and I think that then their feelings for me changed. So I think that’s advice I’ve learned is that when you’re a female walking into a situation like that, when the expectations of you might be low, I think if you realize then—if we instead think about that, if the expectations are so low, it’s so easy to jump over the hurdle and to impress people and to do a good job. I think you change your heart; you change the self-talk in your own head and you do a better job with it.
Arenstein: Obviously you learned a lot of these lessons and you loved to learn, you love to teach—I know you’re teaching at the college level now and we’ll talk about that later. Compare your getting into the industry, your being in the technology field to today, 2015. I don’t know what your daughters are doing in terms of profession but if they wanted to be in a technological field, what is it like compared to the days when you were starting?
Bergman: That’s very interesting. Well, I think now, especially at the technology companies, there’s a real drive and hunger to improve the numbers. So I think that the chances of entering—if you have interest in technology—are wonderful. And I think that’s great. I think getting in is fine. The hard part is will you stay and how will you feel about it each and every day. If you’re working in a largely all-male environment, do you have the kinds of role models and mentors and colleagues around you who will help you learn how to manage your life, and how to manage working in this environment. So I think that we still have a ways to go with that in finding both men and women who will support women as they figure this out. If you do want to have a family, how can you manage a family. How can you manage taking good care of yourself and eating well? Or how do you manage participating in meetings. I think sometimes for a woman to participate and share a suggestion is different than a man so how do you figure all of that out and so I’m hopeful that the more that the numbers change, the more that people will find others who will be supportive of them.
Arenstein: But you say you’re hopeful. I know it’s not just hope because you have been—that’s how we first met. You were working, you were on the ground floor of things like Tech It Out and WICT [Women in Cable Telecommunications] and worrying with Yvette [Kanouff]. That’s how we first met. You and Yvette were almost it when we would think about women in technology, you were it.
Talk about those days and some of the things you did and some of the things you’re still doing today and how far do we have to go?
Bergman: Right. Well, thank you. It’s true; Yvette is one of my dearest friends and somebody I admire so, so much. She’s got a deep desire and fire in her belly to make a difference here, to help change this. I agree with her. I don’t know if I can match her fire and her—but I share her commitment. And we’ve pulled together female leaders throughout the industry to try to create support for women who want it, who want to get started or who want to grow or who want to evolve their careers. I think it’s wonderful and I think it’s just what we need. We need more of it. We need more people like Yvette out there who are just absolutely convincing and willing to talk with anyone about it.
Arenstein: She’s one of the—again, for a press person, she’s fabulous. Any panel that she’s on you can see the sparks flying out of her brain, she’s so smart.
Bergman: She is wonderful. She also has some great stories about what it is like to be a female technology vetter. They are very motivating for people to hear and she’s willing to share them.
Arenstein: All right, so now that we’re talking about some of your interests I don’t think there’s a board you haven’t served on. WICT and the Cable Center and NAMIC [National Association for Multi-ethnicity in Communications]. And I know this is not just a sideline for you; you’re very dedicated to these things. This is very important to you. Tell us about some of the work you’ve been doing on these boards and why you do it.
Bergman: As you well know, our industry is so special in that we have been able to really work together to grow the industry together. In the earlier days it was really only the cable industry that believed in itself to help it grow this way. So many of these wonderful industry organizations were started to try to help us to continue to differentiate ourselves by advancing women or by advancing minorities and I think it’s terrific. So it gives me great joy and pleasure and also I learn so much from being involved with all those organizations to help them advance their causes. It’s one of the things that really differentiates our industry.
Arenstein: I agree. And you know, I just found out doing the research that you were in the first Betsy Magness [Leadership Institute] class and Jana Henthorn, who’s going to be the Cable Center’s first female president—after thirty years, it’s about time—was in that class with you. I didn’t realize that. Tell us about the first Betsy Magness class—where was it held and what sorts of things did you do?
Bergman: It was a great experience and we were in the first class together. It was very clear to me being in that class with Jana that she was such a natural leader. She has such a genuine but gentle approach about her and she’s so bright. Our class would look to her as we were figuring things out that we would work on together as a class.
The Betsy Magness program is terrific. There are many things about, from what I can tell, about the program today that’s the same as the program then such as the program was very affiliated with the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro. So we started our program there and then we met at other places within the US as the year went on.
Bergman: The class is terrific. You learn so much about yourself. It gave me great and better awareness about myself. So then I think by having better awareness, you can control those levers more and have a better impact. Then I think the best part is that you’ve met other people in the class that you could look to for advice over the years. Advice and support. So certainly Jana was a key one for me.
Arenstein: Because I read in the research one of the things that you said was when you walked into that Betsy Magness class at the beginning, you had never been in a room with all women business leaders and it was your first time. You remarked about that.
Bergman: Yes. That is exactly true. That is very special. Just to even learn that there are other women who are trying to wrestle with the same things you are; it was so exciting to be able to talk to them about that. It was fantastic.
Arenstein: So let’s get back to your story. We’ll go back to the timeline. You were at Bright House at this point. Talk about digital phone service. I know that’s one of the things you wanted to mention.
Bergman: Digital phone: so launching digital phone from Bright House was very exciting because I think, of all the launches, of all the things we launched, by launching phone and by launching it successfully, we really proved to ourselves and to all of our employees that we could have a rock solid network and to be able to deliver a service that people depend on so critically like phone. So that was an especially exciting launch. I think now we all think of it as simple and an application on our network, but I think it was a real turning point for cable companies. Because I think as we completed that and as we evolved through it, we then had great belief in our network. We weren’t just about providing entertainment services but we were also about something as carrier-class and as critical as phone.
Arenstein: Very serious.
Bergman: It was great, it was great for our employees.
Arenstein: I mean today for better or worse, we see that phone service and phone records and intelligence, it’s very serious stuff.
Bergman: Yes, exactly.
Arenstein: And cable’s involved in it. Talk about the Women’s Leadership Council at Bright House. I know a number of companies have women’s leadership councils. What was your role there and what does it do? What does the Women’s Leadership Council do at Bright House?
Bergman: That’s a nice question. When we first started Bright House, so when we emerged out of Time Warner, one of the things that we did was I got together with all the other women in our company who had previously done the Betsy Magness program. We talked about what could we do that could have broader impact than just sending one of our teammates to Betsy Magness each year. So we came up with this idea together to kind of have almost like a mini-Betsy Magness for our midlevel employees and emerging leaders within the company. So we started that. It’s a yearlong program, the employees are also assigned a mentor during the program and I spend a day with the women in the program each year and it’s so much fun. It’s a great program and we’ve noticed that quite a large percentage of the women who’ve done the program have been later promoted within our company. So I think that gave us confidence that we’re doing something right there.
Arenstein: Talk about mentoring, both being a mentor and being mentored. Who were some of your mentors and talk about mentoring, that you mentor people now. Talk about your mentors first. We’ve talked about your dad. We’ll talk about your brother, too, a little bit.
Bergman: I’ve had so many mentors in the industry, people certainly like my father or brother. I guess when I think about mentors, I think first about all the people I’ve worked beside. I think that I’ve learned the most from them—people who are willing to give me feedback, with whom I can have good honest discussion and debate and make decisions with and learn from together. So I do feel like over the years many of the colleagues right beside me, whether it’s in my company or at companies like Time Warner Cable have been wonderful mentors to me. An example of that is you mentioned Peter Stern before. Peter Stern gave me quite a gift, I remember, maybe a year or two ago, where he gave me some feedback from watching me in meetings and discussions over many years. He gave me a set of feedback that I really cherish. And I think that took a lot of courage. I’ll be always grateful to him for that.
Arenstein: And I know you felt very strongly about Glenn Britt as well at Time Warner Cable. What was it like interacting with Glenn?
Bergman: Glenn was a wonderful man. He was one of our industry’s very best CEOs. He had a wonderful aptitude for understanding technology and finance and just an incredible breadth. One of my favorite stories about Glenn that—I think about this quite often in these days as well—was a reflection he made in a meeting as our deal with Sprint—that Pivot deal, which was quite—I don’t even know what to say about it, but it was quite a journey. He made a wonderful reflection about it. He said the reason that that deal did not work, that our work with Pivot did not work, is because we were not married enough. We would have to get more married in order for that to work. I think he was just spot on with that. And I look today that whenever there are partnerships or business relationships or even personal relationships, if you’re all in, if you’re fully committed, something magical happens. Whereas if you’re holding back and not giving—which is what happened in that Sprint deal—we were all nervous about the deal, so we were all holding back. We weren’t making the new partnership brilliant. We were all holding something back in case it didn’t work. So that’s just what happened.
I think he was so right. And actually our TWEAN partnership is a great example of being more married. We are all completely committed to that partnership and we’ve made great things happen and it’s because people are willing to take the risk and be all in.
Arenstein: What about running Bright House? This is sort of, what year was this? This was 2007. President, Bright House Networks. Did you ever think that was going to happen?
Bergman: Right, right. I probably didn’t. I probably wasn’t thinking about that. I really largely probably just go to work every day, try to do a good job, take care of our customers, take care of our employees, and I don’t probably always have my eye on the next step. I probably am thinking more about doing a really great job with what’s in front of me at that time.
Arenstein: Should we talk a little bit about Steve Miron and stories around the breakfast table and spewing grape juice…?
Bergman: Yes, I was telling you about that. So working with a sibling. Working with a sibling is very different, right?
Bergman: I think of all relationships, the sibling relationship is the most unique because whether it’s your parents who you want to try to impress or show gratitude to, or whether it’s your spouse who’s similarly—you know, there’s always something there that you want to be on, on good behavior. But a sibling relationship—you’re stuck together for life. There’s no changing it, no matter what you do, you are going to be siblings. So I think it makes for the setting of a very unique relationship. One of the things that happens is you don’t sugarcoat anything. We’re all willing to tell our siblings anything and say it just like it is. We would never be careful with our words with a sibling, right? I think that’s just the nature of the relationship.
But I know I was telling you a story about juice which is that my brother as a kid was always—and he still is—just so, so funny. I was always laughing at things he would do. And he knew it. He knew he could get me to belly-laugh pretty easily. So he would wait for just the perfect moment when we were at dinner or something like that when my mouth was full of juice and he would make me laugh and it would go everywhere. So I think that tells you a lot about our relationship that he’s kind of watching for just the right moment to get my goat.
Arenstein: As you discuss sibling relationships, I think you have a great relationship with your brother. I mean, there are, let’s face it, there are a lot of siblings who don’t talk to each other, who are very guarded with their words. You are lucky; you have a relationship where that’s not the case.
Bergman: Right. I realize I am lucky. I think Bright House has been lucky, too, because if you can do it, if you can have a good relationship like that between siblings, it’s incredibly healthy for the company because to have two leaders who are willing to say anything to each other, to have healthy debate but yet to respect each other, it sets the ground for a very healthy company. The healthiest of companies out there today have safe environments where people can debate and work through conflict. There’s nothing like a sibling relationship to be part of that foundation if you can do it. I agree it can be tricky.
There are times where we disagree and generally we’ll agree to disagree and we’ll make our decision about which way we are going to go. And then often we then make a bet to look back later and see who was right or who was wrong. I lost a pretty expensive bet to my brother a few years ago and we were betting kind of about the impact on digital to the industry; how will the impact of things like web usage and whatnot affect the industry’s bottom line. So we made a bet and I lost. We even doubled it down at one point. I lost. So he wanted me to pay up the bet so I brought in cash. I brought my payment in in cash and he did not want cash. He wanted a check he could frame so that everybody could see that I lost the bet.
Arenstein: You losing a bet on digital, that’s news. That’s kind of news here because I would have thought you would have been…
Bergman: I would have won.
Arenstein: You would have won that one.
Bergman: It was more just that I thought things would happen faster than they did. Probably if I had a couple more years on my bet then I would have been right.
Arenstein: I like to ask people who were very, very involved in technology early on. Was there a moment where you saw something or some product or some technology that you went, “Wow! That’s amazing.”
Bergman: Certainly the Internet. Certainly that. I can remember the earliest days of when I realized that we could provide more than just entertainment. That was so exciting to me. That was a very exciting time. I was actually a Time Warner Cable employee at the time and I so wanted to be in the middle of it. I was at Time Warner Cable in Charlotte and I saw this happening and as Time Warner Cable started to hire Road Runner general managers, actually I said to my husband that I wanted to apply for one of those roles. It would have caused us to move and he said, “Won’t that eventually come to Charlotte? Can’t we wait for it here?” So we did do that. And I think that was one of the most exciting times. But I think as a technologist, going back to the digital bet, or even something like Road Runner and the Internet, I think as a technologist, the more time you think about technology, the more you think it’s already here. I do spend a lot of time reading about technology, I love it. As you read about it, you think of it as already here and so that’s why I would probably be somebody who would have a tendency to think it’s going to have a sooner impact than it actually does. And certainly timing is just as important as the right technology. We’ve all seen so many failed businesses that might be the right technical idea but not the right timing.
Arenstein: So when you look out at the horizon today at the very end of 2015 as we are now, what technology excites you?
Bergman: So, so many do, so many technologies do. For our industry or just in general?
Arenstein: Generally and for the industry.
Bergman: Generally for the industry. I think all the things that—this is probably really nerdy, but all the things that are happening right now with programmable networks and software-defined networking and network function virtualization, all of those I think are so, so exciting. And what’s happening with 5G. Because I think it really will redefine the products and services we have and most of all it will bring robust capabilities to everyone. As we look at our country now, I just heard a comment about Hillary Clinton in the news this morning wanting to make sure Internet access was available to everyone and certainly President Obama has said the same thing. The more that many of these new technologies happen, the more that that will fuel dreams like that, of helping to bring those products and services at a very robust level to everyone. Those are exciting and I think there are wonderful advances in wireless and in satellite technology that also all look terrific.
Arenstein: I know one of the things you’re doing now and I think there’s a funny story involved in this, too, is college teaching. What do you teach, where do you do it? And tell us the funny story.
Bergman: I’ve had the honor of giving guest lectures at Syracuse University and at the University of Rochester largely on topics to do with information policy or business regulation, the intersection between business regulation and technology. I would say all the courses have to do with kind of that general genre and this year, over this summer, one of the professors at Syracuse, with whom I’ve been associated with, got saddled with a much larger class load. So he called me up to see if I could help with some more of the classes. So I’ve joined him as an adjunct professor teaching half of one of his courses. It’s been a lot of fun, it’s great fun to see the students and learn their questions and thoughts. It takes me out of kind of my everyday business and the way maybe I’m already too programmed to think about something and it forces me to think about it differently. So it’s very helpful.
Arenstein: Are your students aware of what you do during the day?
Bergman: I think so but I’m not positive…
Arenstein: They’re very lucky to have the head of a cable company. I mean, one of the things that you disclosed when we were on the phone was that you love to learn, you love to take on new things but one of the things you do is you take on too much. If I were a professor, I would never ask the head of a cable company to come in and in her spare time, lecture. There’s not much spare time in your day. Where do you find the time to do all this?
Bergman: That’s very nice. The class is at night and I am only able to make it to half of the classes so that’s how I fit it in. But I would say just generally for me it’s not always about time but it’s about having the energy and I’m a big believer in that if you take good care of yourself, you can increase your energy level. It’s a muscle just like a muscle of going out for a run. If you’re constantly stressing that muscle of how much energy you have or use, then giving it a chance to replenish, then you have more the next day. So I try to take good care of myself and I think that gives me more capacity than I had years ago. It helps me to increase my capacity.
It’s fun. I think it’s important to have fun. It’s important to do something fun like that.
Arenstein: And it must be fun when you lecture at your alma mater.
Bergman: Yes. That was really special. That was.
Arenstein: Let’s see, are there other things we want to talk about? I mean there’s so much here.
Bergman: There’s one other point about teaching. I think that probably the funniest thing that I’ve ever taught is I was a ski instructor. A little bit in high school and then during the years I was at Arthur Andersen, and in my earlier years at the Systems Group, until I got married. When we got married, my husband said, “That’s it.”
Bergman: I used to go to Stratton Mountain in Vermont. I had a commitment to them that I had to be there every other weekend and one of the holiday weeks to teach skiing. I love to ski so it was great fun because I got to ski but it actually was a very humbling experience because when somebody hires you, especially for a private lesson, I think it’s a very humbling experience to know that in their minds they paid a lot for the lesson, they want to get their money’s worth, and there you are and can you fulfill what they’re hoping for. It was very humbling experience. It was fun, I learned a lot, I definitely improved my skiing. Anything you teach, you break down and learn so much more yourself.
Arenstein: I teach trumpet and I feel the same way.
Bergman: It makes you a better trumpet player. Yeah, exactly. It’s amazing.
Arenstein: Nomi, you were telling me something about “likes before concerns.” What’s that all about?
Bergman: So “likes before concerns” is—I had the pleasure of working on a project with the good folks at Alliant Consulting, Toni Malanaphy-Sorg and Rick Murdock. They taught me many wonderful what they say are ground rules to successful meetings and successful leadership, and I love them all, but the one that I say to myself every single day to this point is this, a lesson they taught me about likes before concerns. It sounds obvious at first but when you really stop and think about it and use it often, you see that it’s not at all natural. What their suggestion is that if you always share your likes before your concerns, the other person then sees you as on their side. And so they more readily embrace whatever it is that you’re suggesting. What that looks like is: say my—what that looks like on the personal side, but it works really, really well in business, too, it’s very effective in business. On the personal side if my daughter comes up to me and says, “Hey, would you look at my school paper?” If I immediately make just a bunch of red marks and give it back to her, she is going to be very defensive, right? And will she ask me again? Maybe not. From the other side, if I read her paper and get excited about what she wrote and the points she was trying to make and then I say, “Hey, could I share a few suggestions with you?” Then she sees me as on her side and she embraces my suggestions. And she’ll come back. And the same thing happens in business. It’s incredible how rarely you see it. When you’re in a meeting and somebody shares an idea, another person immediately jumps in with what won’t work about it or how we could do it differently. If instead that person shared what they liked about it first and then shared the suggestions, just like this school paper story, people would feel differently about each other. So anyhow, if I have a good reputation in the industry, it’s probably because of “likes before concerns.”
Arenstein: OK. There were a couple of other things I wanted to ask you. You were tutored in expressing your ideas very succinctly. How did you learn how to do that?
Bergman: I think this happened very unknowingly by my brother. I think it’s one of the kind of benefits that I’ve derived from working with my brother is if I’m trying to share a technical concept with him—which happens pretty often, maybe we’re talking about a capital investment we want to make. I know I need to explain it very succinctly to him. He likes information very succinctly, very top down, as so many people do. I think through my own trial and error of many, many years of not explaining things well, I’ve now learned how to express especially very technical concepts very simply, very succinctly. So unknowingly that’s a big gift my brother gave me.
Arenstein: I know that you’ve learned so much and you’ve admired so many of the people in Washington where I’m based. People like Kyle McSlarrow and Decker Anstrom at NCTA and Bill Check over there. Barbara York who runs the conventions every year and does such a great job. And Michael Powell, of course, who’s there now. Then Bonita Fitzgerald Mosley and Maria Brennan at WICT. You are a big fan of all them.
Bergman: Yes, oh, I am. All of those leaders that you mentioned. And so many more have done so much for our industry and I’m forever grateful to them both for what they’ve done for our industry and also for what they’ve done for me as well. I’ve learned a great deal from all of them. Those are all phenomenal leaders. We’re a very fortunate industry to have a great organization, in NCTA, WICT and certainly others, too, like SCTE [Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers].
Arenstein: Nomi, there’s something you said back in 2004 that I want you to talk about today here in 2015, eleven years later. You said this in Multichannel News: “With all of these potential new services, our most significant challenge is maintaining our competitive edge, being true to our industry’s longstanding entrepreneurial spirit, staying nimble and reacting more quickly to market changes and viewers’ needs than our competitors.” So we always talk about the latest and greatest and everything changing. You said that in 2004. I think you could have said that right now and it would have been as true then as it is today.
Bergman: Right, right. I still do believe that statement. I think we have to be very careful as an industry that we never get too comfortable with ourselves—that we’re always kind of thinking about how we can do better. Even if it does mean cannibalizing part of what we’re accustomed to doing. One of my very favorite books I’ve ever read was The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. To me, the quote you read plays into that. Clayton Christensen talks about how, especially in a time like we have now, that you can have so much innovation and disruption nipping at the heels. That if you’re not careful, if as a large company you’re just iterating and making small improvements, you’re going to miss these significant changes happening along your heels. So I think it’s really important that we don’t get too comfortable and that we’re always thinking about really what it is our customers most want. And we have to be willing to—as we were when we were first founded kind of by a bunch of cowboys—to reinvent ourselves. Even if it means harming our current model. I think we have to be willing to do that.
Arenstein: The next thing I want to talk about is the trophy shelf in your house. It must be huge. Pardon me, but I have to read all these things here. In 2004, the Women in Technology Award, SCTE. Multichannel News, “Wonder Woman,” in 2005. CED’s Person of the Year in 2008. 2009, NCTA Distinguished Vanguard Award for Leadership. 2011–what happened in 2010, you didn’t do anything?–WICT, Woman of the Year. Gosh, we’re not the only ones who admire you, Nomi. This is quite a resume.
I know you’re kind of a shy person. You don’t like to be in the spotlight so it’s very nice that you did this for us today, but these groups mean a lot to you, I know that. These awards probably mean a lot to you. How do you deal with this kind of adulation, being kind of a modest person?
Bergman: That’s very sweet. I’m certainly honored to have won those awards, but to me life is really all about when you’re brushing your teeth at the end of the night, and you’re looking at yourself in the mirror, like how do you feel about yourself at that moment? Do you feel content with yourself? Did you treat others well? How do you feel about how you handled the day? So I judge myself much more on that than on any award or new role or something like that. To me, feeling good about myself and how I treated others that day is the most important thing to me and certainly I can’t say every single night I feel good about it, but I try to learn from my mistakes and move on swiftly, not beat myself up about them. I try to learn from it. If I needed to apologize to somebody, I do that and then move on. But I think life is so much about how we treat each other. The things I’m the proudest of are when somebody comes up to you and says, “Thank you for doing that for me.” Or “You were helpful to me.” Or “I learned something.” Or you supported me.” Those are the things that you feel the most proud of, right? Times like that.
Arenstein: Well, we can have a time like that right here because I still remember as a young reporter coming up and talking with you one time and you were so down to earth, so nice, so easy to talk to. And this was a long time ago. We were both a lot younger, but now I look older and you look the same. How did that happen? Anyway, we won’t talk about that.
Let’s get on to a little bit more serious thing. Cable’s legacy. What’s cable’s legacy and when people come to the Cable Center, what are they going to learn about the cable industry that they might not have known before?
Bergman: That’s very interesting. When I think about the cable industry, I do think back to that entrepreneurial spirit. To be willing to completely change the model for how television is delivered and received and then to build what the cable industry built and then to take advantage then of that superhighway and deliver even more with it and to foster to the kind of innovation that was fostered. I think it’s probably one of the greatest American success stories. It’s so exciting to think about how American, and really international, life has changed as a result of the ideas of people in the cable industry. So I think it has a really, really wonderful history. I think it’s being repeated today with what’s happened with the Internet. It’s a very similar story and a really wonderful story. In front of it, the cable industry does still have challenges that with our success has come dissatisfaction on the part of customers with our rates or with choice. So I think that we need to work together to make sure we’re listening to those customers and that we’re evolving our products and services to make sure that they deliver just that. Because certainly customers are willing to pay for good service, good products. When we look today at what customers are paying for their iPhone or what they’re buying on Amazon, you see that customers, if they’re excited about the products and services, customers are willing to pay for them. I think the opportunities ahead of us are enormous. Our industry has made terrific investments in its infrastructure and its technology and in its people so I think we’re very well-positioned to ride this next wave.
Arenstein: Tell me about your relationship with employees. I think your father had a very big influence on how you deal with employees. I think you felt that if you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of you. Is that how you manage today?
Bergman: Definitely. My brother and I both learned that from my father. He always had a steadfast commitment to taking care of employees and customers, but that if you took care of your employees, then they would take care of your customers and of the company. And he showed us that through his actions. I remember that my father would always have small group meetings with employees and he would always treat their input as sacred. That if employees in a meeting like that made a suggestion, or said, “Hey, I could really use a tool for such-and-such to make my job better,” my father treated that kind of input as sacred and he took that—that followup I mentioned to you before, you know, when there’s an idea, it goes into his repertoire, which is steel-clad and you can be sure it will happen. My father treated employee feedback like that, with that same kind of commitment and so we’ve tried to do the same and I’m sure we could always do better but there’s nothing more important in our company than taking care of our employees and giving them a great place to work. We hope that they’re having as much fun working at Bright House as we are and so we try to create a fun environment that takes care of our customers.
Arenstein: And the community. I know the way that Bright House serves its community is important to you because you do it so well. I remember writing and I’m blanking on the name but it is a science and technology kind of competition that you all started maybe a summer or two ago that ends up on a television show and brings people, I believe, from the whole state of Florida, if I’m not mistaken, or several states. So let’s talk about that. Let me get a better question there.
The one other thing I wanted to touch on with you is the community and how you serve the community and how you’re part of the community. You’re a local company; you’re in the community. Talk to us about the importance of community at Bright House.
Bergman: Our communities are very, very important to us. Actually, right now we have—over the past couple of years we’ve had a branding campaign in Bright House called “Hello, Friend.” What that branding campaign was all about was that if we could see our customers as friends, and not by customers, wouldn’t that change everything? It follows this line that if you had a friend in our community and they had a question or problem with their cable service, you know that if you called me, I would take care of that. So that’s the premise of this concept which was, why can’t we treat all of our customers that way? Why can’t every customer feel like they’re a friend and we would do anything for them? So we rolled out that campaign internally within our company first to give employees a chance to think about how they would want to embrace that. Then we rolled it out in the community. We did all kinds of neat things in each community to kind of show the community that we’re committed to being a friend to the community. Our communities are very important to us. It really means everything. What we’ve built in the community is really about a local investment in the community so it’s everything to us to keep a good relationship with the community. And how the community feels about us as a company and if we’re a good citizen of the community, a good supporter of it; it means everything to us.
Arenstein: I would say, not surprisingly, a thrust of Bright House’s community relations is focused on children and youth and education. It doesn’t surprise me knowing you. Talk a little bit about the education thrust and the youth thrust that you have at Bright House.
Bergman: We did recently have a kind of neat STEM competition that was sort of a “Shark Tank”-like thing where we had a competition and one of the students who won, we’ve partnered him with somebody in the community who can help him bring the idea to fruition and we’ve stayed in touch with it and done what we can to help as well. So those are just great, great stories.
Arenstein: Well, Nomi, thank you so much. This has been a pleasure. I know we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg but I think we’ve gotten some good things today and learned a lot more about you and it’s been fun.
Bergman: Thank you, thank you so much. And thank you for all you’ve done for our industry. We’re really grateful.
Arenstein: My pleasure.
END OF INTERVIEW