Interview Date: Friday, July 02, 1999
Collection: WICT 20th Anniversary Collection
Ann Carlsen, founder and CEO of Carlsen Resources, describes her entry into the cable industry at United Cable. She talks about the enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit she witnessed at the company. She reports on how and why she started her own company, noting some of the challenges, but also acknowledges WICT as a key component of her success. She explains her involvement in management and career development in the organization, eventually becoming president. She explores how WICT has influenced the industry, helping the organization move from the control of a management firm to an independent association, and comments on how WICT’s greatest achievement is that women are given the opportunity to lead. She also remarks on the flaws she sees in the cable business for women, including salary disparities and the glass ceiling.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, say your name.
CARLSEN: Ann Carlsen. A-N-N C-A-R-L-S-E-N, founder and CEO, Carlsen Resources.
INTERVIEWER: Just to get it down on record, how did you become involved in the industry initially?
CARLSEN: I got involved in the cable industry actually just right when I got out of college I asked a couple of people who were mentors of mine what business I should get in and all of them said do something in telecommunications or the cable TV business at the time, and a couple of people that I knew were already involved in it and got me a job at United Cable and I started out knocking on doors right when I finished college.
INTERVIEWER: At the time you entered the industry, what was the most striking thing about it?
CARLSEN: The cowboy hats — cowboy hats, the incredible youth of the people, the enthusiasm of the people and the entrepreneurial spirit that people had. I haven’t seen anything like it recreated anywhere – kind of an I-can-do-anything sort of business.
INTERVIEWER: Let’s look at your personal success. What personal elements have contributed to your success?
CARLSEN: My charm and good looks, primarily. Actually, honestly, I think my sense of humor, and the fact that I find myself humorous and I make other people laugh is probably… I think that’s the reason I’ve been successful.
INTERVIEWER: Can you tell us how you decided to start your own business and what were some of the challenges in launching your own company?
CARLSEN: At the time I was working for somebody else who had an executive search firm, Dave Pebble, and he and I were doing quite well together. Unfortunately, I was getting married or fortunately, maybe for him, and I just decided I wanted to do something that would allow me the flexibility because I knew I wanted to have kids and so I thought I would kind of have this job that would be part-time somehow and I moved to California and just kind of opened up shop in my bedroom so it was really kind of a… I was really kind of getting off the track a little bit to do that.
INTERVIEWER: What were some of the challenges in your first few years of having your own company?
CARLSEN: You know, I don’t — I always had such a good time with building my company and just really growing from the beginning that I can’t — challenges were — I mean it was not a hard a business to do because there wasn’t any capital expenditure up front or anything. I mean it was basically me and then I would add different people that basically would help enhance what I do, but in terms of any real risks or anything like that, I mean people always say, well, gee you started your own business, but it really wasn’t that difficult and the challenges primarily were at pivotal points when I had to decide whether I wanted to grow the company. I had three small kids and it’s been kind of a continual struggle to make those decisions along the way. The business was always very open and willing to help and WICT, I think, was one of the key proponents of my business — one of the reasons that it propelled to where it is today.
INTERVIEWER: How specifically did WICT help your business?
CARLSEN: Well, WICT’s helped my business basically all the way through from the beginning. I mean when I first met Kate Hampford, who was then the President of WICT, she and I were having lunch and she started talking about this Workforce 2000 project that WICT was doing and it was so cutting edge and so above and beyond and forward thinking than anything I had heard before coming out of our business that I thought it was something I needed to get involved with. So I got involved very much from that aspect, but what came from that in terms of tying it back to my business was… it tracks with my business. What’s happening in the workforce obviously tracks with what’s going on with people and executive search, so it gave me a platform from which to talk about it and I think I gained a lot of credibility in the industry from that and then on through it’s really been each and every initiative that we’ve done. The Betsy Magness Leadership Institute — you know, being involved with that, although I wasn’t involved in creating it or anything, just being involved peripherally now and talking to the fellows and being involved, it’s expanded my horizons and I had to do a lot of study and homework to talk to them. The Women’s Directors Initiative – I’ll have to think about that a little bit more too. But I really at one point had thought through how it had tracked my whole career, all the different things that had happened, but I haven’t thought about it recently and I need to.
INTERVIEWER: All right.
CARLSEN: Then I was given the opportunity to the chair the WICT Management Conference, which was an incredible opportunity because I had never spoken in public before and it terrorized me and I had the great support of a bunch of really wonderful women who basically helped me kind of do that and learn that and step-by-step kind of gained that and I think that’s certainly helped grow and develop the business. We did a Career Development Institute, which I think helped our business as well so there’s been nothing else like it for me in terms of just the opportunities it’s given me to lead and manage and learn how to do things and grow the business.
INTERVIEWER: How do you think WICT influences the industry at large?
CARLSEN: Mostly through the leaders that the organization puts out. I mean if you think about 20 years of existence and you think about the real thing that WICT does, I think, is it gives women leadership opportunities and opportunities to learn in a safe environment where you can fail and you know that there’s going to be ten people there to help you along and kind of get to the next place so through that a lot of women have had the opportunity to take on leadership roles and do things that we wouldn’t ordinarily have had the opportunity to do and gained the profile that you wouldn’t have ordinarily had the opportunity to do as well.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember any events from your presidential year that you would like to share with us for the Gala?
CARLSEN: I don’t remember any sort of specific sort of thing or accomplishment because we had a lot of fun, but what I remember most was the awesome feeling of trying to harness that many incredibly powerful, passionate women who were really focused on a couple of very specific goals and harnessing that and bringing that together and watching that take off was just — it was one of those things where you have those moments in life, you know. The birth of the three kids gets to be one of them — or three of them — and that was another one. I remember my first born many times just sitting there going whoa, every one of these people is smarter than I am and I’m in charge.
INTERVIEWER: I mean I’ve been hearing you say this throughout your answers, but being involved with WICT has helped you professionally and personally, you would say then?
CARLSEN: It’s in the friendships that I have gained. Most of my dear friends are involved in the organization in one way or the other. In particular through having three kids and having a business and doing that — if nothing else it’s always been a place where there were other women who were experiencing the same sorts of things in raising kids and being really active in their industry and in their company and to know that it was okay to be a working mother and that there were other people doing that and their kids turned out okay. I mean it is things like that that continue to endear me to the organization.
INTERVIEWER: I know you had a role in helping the organization move from the control of a management firm to an independent association, I was wondering if you could talk about that a little and some of the challenges and rewards of being part of that transition team.
CARLSEN: Well, Pam was always in charge of everything, so you know, to me it seemed pretty logical that she would be in charge and we would have her build a staff under her and I think the organization at the time really had gotten to the place where we needed to have our own focus. I mean there were so many initiatives being undertaken at the time that without that kind of fire power and focus we never could have gotten going and, of course, Pam, need we say, has been the stabilizing force of Women in Cable since I’ve been involved with it. I mean she and I started just about the same time so I haven’t known it any other way.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, what do you see as WICT’s greatest achievement?
CARLSEN: I think that WICT’s greatest achievement is that women are given the opportunity to lead and from that have populated the industry and if you look at the recent successes of our business and how many women and women-owned companies have been involved in it, it’s staggering versus where it was. I think this organization is primarily responsible for that, because it does put you in a place for the contacts and the access and the opportunities to learn.
INTERVIEWER: Do you see WICT changing as we move into the next century in terms of its goals or its tactics?
CARLSEN: I hope not. I mean I think the organization does what it’s supposed to do which is it puts the mirror up to the industry and to the population at large about issues that surround women and working women in particular and I think that it will continue or hopefully will continue in the role of doing that and also in the leadership programs that it puts together and primarily keeping women out in front of the curve which is what the organization has always done. And if you look at what’s taken place, WICT is usually one step ahead of the trend.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, I just want to ask you some questions about your career and whether or not you have any mentors and who they might have been and how they change your perception of your career. Did you have any mentors or…?
CARLSEN: As far as mentors for me, you know, it’s interesting because I’m very big on mentorship but I have never formally been in a mentoring relationship. I mean, I’ve had a lot of people who I have considered mentors, and I am mentored by most everybody I come in contact with and I have to say that, you know, throughout my career it’s been mainly women and women involved in this organization who have provided mentorship to me. I mean, Pam has provided mentorship to me in so many different ways. Ruth Warren, Dianne Blackwood, Sharan Wilson, Terri Thompson, Kate Hampford. I’m in awe of all of these women so I step back and take notice, but in terms of formal mentoring, no, no. I think that’s a mistake. I think that, you know, more and more especially the way the work environments and corporations are now that it is absolutely pivotal to a person’s career to have not just one mentor, but to be very focused on several different mentors in different areas of weakness and strengths for you and that the more people that do that… there’s actually a study that I’m doing right now, just my little independent study about people who have gotten to the top of companies — Fortune 500 companies — all the way through to kind of mid-sized to small-sized companies and the people who have said these have been my mentors, who have been formally mentored, not by a boss, but by somebody who has taken them under the wing, you know, when they’ve entered a company accelerate their curve greatly. I mean it’s an amazing thing, so I want to get some stats around that.
INTERVIEWER: I know that you’re involved in an industry mentoring program under NAMIC and could you talk a little bit about that?
CARLSEN: The program for NAMIC is basically for NAMIC membership and what happens is the mentoree, the perspective mentoree, kind of does a little bit of a career plan — not a full-blown one, but what do I need help with; where am I in my career; where I could use advice? Kind of fills up his paperwork and then we match that person with somebody from the industry who can help them, who we feel is most appropriate to help them and so far it’s been a very successful program.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, in your company you see a lot of women trying to get jobs and trying to navigate their careers. Do you see the kind of mistakes that women make in trying to put together their careers and if you were to advise them on how to build a successful career, what would you tell them to do?
CARLSEN: Ask for more money. I think women — this isn’t everybody — but typically will go into a company with the I’ll-let-you-see-what-I-can-do kind of attitude and because of that they go in lower and have more difficulty getting up through the ranks and less likely to go in and ask the boss for a raise too because again — you know, we like to be recognized without having to go in and ask. But I think that’s the advice I would give.
INTERVIEWER: Are you satisfied with the progress that women have made overall in the cable industry?
CARLSEN: Am I satisfied with the progress that women have made? No, I’m not. I’m not satisfied. I’m not going to be satisfied until there is a level playing field and, you know, whether people acknowledge that level playing field or not — I mean there still is a 75 to 25 percent discrepancy in salaries; there is still a glass ceiling and so those issues, although we’re coming along, still need to be addressed. So I’ll be satisfied then.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think the industry changed within the last five or ten years? I mean has it been easier for women to reach the higher ranks?
CARLSEN: I think it’s been easier for women to get into the business and I think it’s been easier for women at middle management levels but I think it’s been as difficult as it’s ever been at the top levels, although there are more women entering. I think that’s because there’s more women in the pipeline at those levels, but I still think at the very top it’s still as difficult as it was. That’s just observation from all of the different women that have gone now and started companies versus those people that started them when I started my company.
INTERVIEWER: Well, as you obviously know there are so many changes in the industry now, do you think that those changes are going to be positive or negative for
CARLSEN: Positive, definitely. And I think if WICT continues to do the great work that it does and has some kind of place for women to gather and to help each other — without question.
INTERVIEWER: So you are seeing more opportunities for women now than previously?
CARLSEN: There are more opportunities for everybody is really what it is. The opportunities for people are there more so than they’ve ever been.
INTERVIEWER: Have you been able to achieve balance in your life? Do you have any advice for young people who want to achieve some sort of equilibrium between work and personal life? Is it possible?
CARLSEN: Have I achieved balance? All I can say is I’m not the person to talk to about that, no. I’m not even — no. Not even close. I do my very best as I’m sure we all do, but I don’t really have any great advice because if I did, I’d be taking it myself. I think it’s really difficult for women who have families because there’s the pressure of being the really great mom and that picture is the mom is at home and stays at home. And then there’s that pressure to really excel at one’s career and I think those two things, you know, pull at each other and when one kind of wins, then, you know, you’re dissatisfied one way and one the other is the other way so I don’t know if there’s a solution to that. Pam probably could tell you that.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think balance is a reasonable goal for women?
CARLSEN: Yes, I think women need to understand that perhaps you can’t have all the things that you want all at the same time, as I once thought you could have everything. I think somebody told us that actually. But the truth of the matter is you have them at different times in your life and so when I had my kids I took time off of work and, you know, because of that I probably didn’t get as far along as I could have and whatever the case may have been, but I think women have to be realistic about what that really looks like.
INTERVIEWER: Well, I’m not going to get married until next year, so I’m sure it won’t be for a couple of years.
CARLSEN: How old are you?
INTERVIEWER: Me? How old do you think I am? I’m 27.
CARLSEN: Thirty is a good time to get married, okay. And you can quote me on that.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, do you think the emergence of the female executive has changed the contours of the cable industry?
CARLSEN: I think women have changed the contours of the industry more subtly yet than will be, but women manage differently, lead differently, listen differently and I think some of that is starting to show. You don’t really… unfortunately, I don’t think I can put my hands around it, but there’s no question that women-run companies are run very, very differently and I think not to say better or worse but for what’s coming and the future workforce and what we’re looking at it in terms of competition, I do think that the female way of leading is going to be emerge the leader on this.
INTERVIEWER: Can I ask you about your management style — do you have a specific management style or has it grown over the course of running your own company?
CARLSEN: Oh, boy. I don’t know. I don’t really know. I think they all like me. I’ve grown very different over the last ten years, definitely. I think my style very initially and probably still to a certain degree is much more hands-on, but over time as I develop more confidence and role models in that, I have, I think, learned a little bit more of that. Anyway, I don’t know.
INTERVIEWER: I was looking over your pay equity responses and in it you said in some ways we are all sort of unconscious offenders that we still sort of carry these perceptions around with us of women and men and their roles. Would you still agree with that assessment or…?
CARLSEN: In terms of the term “unconscious offenders”, what I mean by that is, basically that I don’t think anyone intentionally pays women or people of color less money. I think what happens is that the women started the company perhaps coming in without negotiating or they don’t go in and ask for a raise when the time is perhaps there and when most guys would. I think that what happens in companies though is that nobody thinks it’s them. I mean I don’t think I have an issue with them and anybody who asks would say no, it’s not me. But then when they’re faced with the evidence, if they would just look into it they would see that that evidence was clear and I think that’s what I mean by that is just even if you think it’s not your problem, take a look at it ’cause the evidence and the research implies otherwise.
INTERVIEWER: And also what you said before was that the only way to achieve equality in the industry is by having a commitment from the CEO. Could you talk a little bit about how CEO commitment may change the face of the industry?
CARLSEN: If you don’t have CEO commitment, at least in my observation, around the issue of salary parity and glass ceiling pretty much anything that’s going on within an organization that involves its people is a big waste of time. I mean, if the CEO isn’t involved and people don’t understand that it’s important to me that I have diversity of people, then, you know, they don’t care, unless it happens to strike a chord. So I think that if you have it at the CEO level, you’ve got it. If you don’t, then, you know, it’s a long row to hoe.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think it’s a realistic goal to expect parity between men and women over the next ten years?
CARLSEN: I mean if you run the stats on it from where we are now and how it’s kind of run through time, I think it was 2050 or something that we determined would be when parity would be reached.
INTERVIEWER: I’ve covered most of the questions. What is the one thing that stands out that you’re particularly proud of?
CARLSEN: You know what I’m proudest of honestly? I’m proudest of my presidency of WICT because it was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. I mean it really was the most difficult.
INTERVIEWER: Why was it difficult?
CARLSEN: Because it was a challenge to have that many smart, courageous people kind of following your lead and the inherent pressure that that puts on a person is just incredible.
INTERVIEWER: Has that working as President of WICT influenced you in your own company? I mean did you learn tangible lessons that you could apply to your own company?
CARLSEN: Having been President of WICT and then, you know, running my own company, no question. I mean I am a much better leader today than I was five years ago and a good part of it was due to my term as president. I mean I had women telling me what was proper and what wasn’t and Pam Williams to tell me this is not the way you handle this and Ruth Warren saying this and Dianne Blackwood advising me on something else so it was an incredible. I’ll never be able to duplicate that, I’m sure, because you know; it wasn’t a subordinate/boss relationship and so when you don’t have that you have a lot more openness and opportunity for growth, I think, because you don’t have to worry about what somebody thinks.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, well, thank you very much. We appreciate it.
CARLSEN: You’re ever so welcome and anytime you want to call me back, I’m happy to come back.
y, no question. I mean I am a much better leader today than I was five years ago and a good part of it was due to my term as president. I mean I had women telling me what was proper and what wasn’t and Pam Williams to tell me this is not the way you handle this and Ruth Warren saying this and Dianne Blackwood advising me on something else so it was an incredible. I’ll never be able to duplicate that, I’m sure, because you know; it wasn’t a subordinate/boss relationship and so when you don’t have that you have a lot more openness and opportunity for growth, I think, because you don’t have to worry about what somebody thinks.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, well, thank you very much. We appreciate it.
CARLSEN: You’re ever so welcome and anytime you want to call me back, I’m happy to come back.