Interview Date: Tuesday June 15, 1999
Interview Location: Chicago, IL
Interviewer: Jim Keller
Collection: Hauser Collection
KELLER: This is the video history of Gayle L. Greer, a twenty year veteran of the cable television industry, and in my experience, a human dynamo. This interview is a part of the video and oral history project of The Gustave Hauser Foundation of The National Cable Television Center and Museum. The date is June 15, 1999, the scene is Chicago’s McCormick Convention Center, and the interviewer is Jim Keller. Gayle, let’s start by giving us a little bit of your personal history from day one through the time you got into the cable business.
GREER: Well, I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was the fourth of one of four daughters of a principal. My high school principal was my father and graduated from high school in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I went to school in Nashville, Tennessee when I left Tulsa and went to Oklahoma State University and then graduated from the University of Houston with an undergraduate degree as well as a master’s degree in social work and really went and pursued my passion of being a social worker and spent thirteen years doing social work. I ended up in a community called Fort Wayne, Indiana, where a guy who you should know, David Kinley, was franchising. I met David in Fort Wayne and I think one of the reasons that he later came back and asked me to join the company was that I gave him good advice that he did not take when he was in Fort Wayne. I told him that ATC probably would not be winning that franchise and they did not and he later came back and asked me to join the company. I went on an interview and decided on my way from the airport driving down Monaco in Denver that if they offered me a job I was going to take it.
KELLER: So you got out of social work and went into the communications business at that time?
GREER: I did. It wasn’t a deliberate plan to get out of social work. It really was I wanted to move and I had very little understanding at that time of the cable television industry, but Denver sounded like a great place to be and I said, “Well, if this doesn’t work, I’ll go back to social work.” As you know, I stayed for twenty years.
KELLER: Now, you said you advised Dave Kinley, who was also part of the franchise team at ATC, as I was, and from what perspective had you advised him?
GREER: Well, I was executive director of a community agency there and had been there for a while and was pretty much familiar with the local situation and most definitely the city council politics and another company, which I don’t even think exists today, had been very active in that community, had gotten several key people committed and after seeing that, it was pretty clear to most of us who understood Fort Wayne, that that was the company who was going to win because of the connections that they had with some very powerful local people.
KELLER: Then when you came to ATC, what did you do there?
GREER: I was hired as, I think it was called Manager of Franchise Development, or something like that, and my boss at that time, David Kinley, was just beginning to develop a department in franchising. I think that he and a couple other people had been doing most of it and so he decided to expand because they were moving into the urban markets and one of the things that attracted David to me was my network in the urban market, by being with the urban league for so many years. In most of the markets that ATC was interested in, I knew somebody through the organization that I had been working with.
KELLER: What year was this?
GREER: This was 1978. I started out working very closely with David, Bill Brown, you, and a number of other people, going around the country primarily in communities like New Orleans and Cincinnati and Indianapolis and Houston, Texas.
KELLER: None of which we won.
GREER: None of which we won, but you know, they all came back.
KELLER: Yeah, in one way or another.
GREER: But it was quite a big experience. I really had no idea how much my prior experience as a social worker, and primarily in community work, would really lend itself to helping me out in my career at ATC. Franchising really just seemed like a natural; being able to go into communities, put groups together, make presentations, propose an appeal to politicians in the community, that just felt very natural for me and I very much enjoyed those years.
KELLER: Now, ATC is American Television and Communications Corporation, which then was purchased by Time, Inc. in the late ’70’s and then you went with Time, Inc. after the purchase, did you not?
GREER: I did.
KELLER: What did you do there?
GREER: Well, after franchising, I helped Trygve Myhren at that time, he was the CEO, and it was just prior to the changing of the name . He got me involved in developing a process for renewals because about that time, many of the acquisitions that had been made by ATC were up for renewal. It was the first round of renewals. So I worked on renewals for a few years and then I knew that I wanted to get into operations. Franchising really kind of showed that to me, that operations was really where I wanted to be and I talked to a number of people around the company, Jimmy Doolittle and others, who said, “Why would you want to be in operations, Gayle? You’re in franchising.” So I said, “I just think that’s where I want to go.” Luckily for me, I ended up in the national division after the name was changed from ATC to Time Warner Cable, or Time, Inc. first, and then I had responsibility for medium, small cable systems in the national division, working for Jim Cottingham, initially. I was in the national division for about thirteen years and after the national divisions, I went over to a new area called Time Warner Telecomm, which was the project and joint venture between Time Warner and US West to develop telephony and to integrate it in the cable plant. My job was to aid in that integration.
KELLER: Did you ever start some pilot projects?
GREER: We did. I came in right about the time that the Rochester project was beginning and was very much instrumental in getting a lot of the systems in place for that operation to work. It was quite a learning experience. I think that was the beginning of all the changes that have been made in this industry and there were a lot of challenges with telephony, a lot of technical challenges as well as the over all kind of operational challenges. The Rochester project did very well and the company decided at that point that we would learn more in doing that in terms of residential telephony and then really started pursuing business telephone, where they are today.
KELLER: Did you ever go into the home market with telephony or telephone?
GREER: Well, we went to Rochester. Rochester was a residential service and that was Time Warner’s only residential service, but there were a number of commercial and business telephone customers, and today a very successful company that just went public and doing very well.
KELLER: How did you handle the switching and the interface and the interface with the long distance carriers?
GREER: We had a contract with a company called Frontier, which was also headquartered in Rochester, who handled most of the long distance for the company and we had arrangements in the switching with AT&T. One of the things about that job is it had a lot to do with establishing networks, relationships, joint ventures. It was really the name of the game for that venture because it was a matter of putting together a number of technologies and converging them. At one time Time Warner, US West, Frontier Communications and AT&T were all very much involved in that project.
KELLER: Did US West actually do the telephony portion of the system or was it all a Time system?
GREER: US West was an owner in Time Warner Telecomm. It was a 50/50 joint venture. Many of the people in Time Warner Telecomm were from US West. I would say that the majority of the people were from US West. The president was from US West and a number of the people; I was one of the few people, along with Graham Power, that came out of the cable business.
KELLER: Is the system in Rochester still going today?
GREER: I heard yesterday that as a result of the pending venture with AT&T to use Time Warner’s cable plant to provide local and residential telephone that there has been some pullback on the Rochester project into rolling it out further, waiting on the closure of that arrangement with AT&T.
KELLER: So you were one of the cable people very early on involved in the telephony aspect of the business.
GREER: Very much so.
KELLER: As you see it developing today, many of the things coming out of this conference are going to be aimed toward that. What did you think of Mr. Armstrong’s speech yesterday?
GREER: I thought it was really interesting. It’s amazing to me – it reminded me of when…
KELLER: Mr. Armstrong is the chairman and CEO of American Telephone and Telegraph.
GREER: Yes, AT&T. Number one, I thought it was very impressive. He certainly has a great vision for this industry. I think that they’re going to bring a lot to the table. One of the things that’s interesting to me is how the telephone people for so many years were the enemy, and now they are into the cable industry in a big way. I think the message of his speech was that I’m here to help, I’m here to really take the industry to the next step. I believe that that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
KELLER: While you were at Time Warner and ATC before that, you were involved in a number of organizations including Women in Cable, I assume, and the National Association of Minorities in Cable. Tell me about that organization, please.
GREER: Well, The National Association of Minorities in Cable was really…
KELLER: You were a co-founder of that organization.
GREER: I was a co-founder of the organization and ATC was very instrumental in that organization being what it is today and then later, Time Inc. also played a major role. They were very, very supportive. At that time there were very few people of color in the industry and there was a sense that a network and a support system should be organized. Women in Cable, I believe, had just been organized shortly before then and therefore, I group of us, Gail Williams, who was with HBO and Sabari Sumami who was with Cox Cable and a number of other people… Barry Washington… we all got together and decided that we would start minorities in cable. I went to Time Warner, at that time Monte Rifkin when we first started, and then later, Trygve and others, and asked for their support and they were very, very supportive. We organized that organization back in, I think, around 1980, ’81, something like that, and this morning they had their breakfast and I was given an award, which was a real honor. But I said this morning when I looked out at in that audience, where it looked like hundreds and hundreds of people, that I remember at the first breakfast back in 1982, I think it was, when we had an FCC commissioner as our speaker and we were so pleased to see one hundred people buy seats to the breakfast and this morning there had to be five, six, seven hundred people.
KELLER: That’s a great tribute to you. But awards are not new to you; you’ve had many of them over your career, including some within Time Inc., the Andrew Haskill Community Services Award. You were also, as I believe, awarded the National Cable Television Association’s Vanguard Award for leadership. What year was that?
GREER: That was 1986, I believe, ’85, ’86. That was a real honor. It was a real shock, quite frankly. That was during the days when the Vanguard Awards were given at night and it was a big huge…
KELLER: It was a dinner.
GREER: It was a dinner, a big gala, and whenever I think about it, I think about my mom, who came from Tulsa to see me get that award and how awed she was with all the people she saw and how proud she was that her daughter was getting this award. That was quite an honor. Also the Andrew Haskill Award was really kind of a recognition of my avocation, I guess, and certainly a hobby, and that is of working in community groups. I guess the social work experience, which was my training and what I was doing at the time that I joined ATC. My community work was a way of bringing balance to my life. The Andrew Haskill Award is given to someone within the Time Inc. family, and Time Warner now, who has done things in the community. .
KELLER: You also worked in conjunction with the Walter Kaitz Foundation, did you not, whose purpose is to bring minorities and women into the cable industry. How successful have you found these programs to be?
GREER: Well, I think that Women in Cable, NAMIC and the Walter Kaitz Foundation have played a significant role in this industry. It has, number one, aided the industry in its recruitment efforts. I think that in a number of ways, I remember fifteen years ago or more when we used to have conversations about the absence of minorities and the absence of women in key positions, but it was after these organizations came along, and then when the Walter Kaitz Foundation was established where companies were hiring interns, fellowships, to come into the industry. Today, in fact I just left a woman who was one of the original Walter Kaitz fellows, who owned her own telephone company and recently sold it.
GREER: Ruth Brumfield. I see Tracy Jenkins in Denver often, who’s now with Fox Family and who has been very successful. So I would say that Walter Kaitz and the support that it receives from Women and Cable and NAMIC has been instrumental in achieving more diversity in the business..
KELLER: What percentage of the executive positions throughout the industry do you feel are really now occupied by women or by women of color?
GREER: It’s a very small percentage in terms of leadership positions. There are few women and even fewer women of color in the executive and senior level positions. I think what the organizations like Women in Cable, NAMIC and the Walter Kaitz Foundation did was bring people into the pipeline. They brought in a lot of people and really made a diverse work force at the middle and below levels. There’s still a way to go in this industry as it relates to senior positions and executive positions.
KELLER: How would you place the cable television industry vis-à-vis the telephone companies or the broadcasting operations as far as the advancement of both women and women of color?
GREER: One of the things that I’ve always said about the cable industry, especially around the time I came in, for women and minorities, it’s always been good to go into entrepreneur, start up kinds of industries and companies. I use myself as an example; I came in with an MSW having done social work in 1978 and by 1980 I was a vice president and moved on to senior vice president. So I doubt that I would have had that kind of experience in a more matured industry like broadcasting, or telephone, and even today I would say that while there may be a few more women in senior positions like AT&T, I know of a woman who’s in a very senior position, and in some of the other companies, but in relative terms, cable is doing just as well, if not better.
KELLER: Well, that’s good to hear and I think, as you say, there’s been a concerted effort to bring both minorities and also women into the business and I’m glad to see that you, at least, feel that we’re making some headway along those lines.
GREER: We are definitely making headway.
KELLER: You have also, in this connection, been involved with companies outside of the cable industry as members of the board and so on, such as the public service company which is now, what do they call it?
GREER: New Century Energies.
KELLER: New Century Energies. You’re still on the board of that company?
GREER: I am.
KELLER: When did you first go on that?
GREER: I went on the board of Public Service Company of Colorado in about 1986 and the board experience had a lot to do, I think also, with my overall career. That was another thing that I just was not expecting. I remember when Trygve Myhren called me into his office one day and said, “I’ve got a call from a guy by the name of Dale Hock, who has said that they would like to talk to you about joining the board of the public service company and he wanted to make sure that it was okay and how do you feel about that?” I said, “That’s great.” But I had no idea of the responsibility that came along with being a director of a major publicly traded company and it’s been a real learning experience and has aided me, I think, in a lot of my business work as it relates to the cable business. I’ve been through mergers and acquisitions. I went from Public Service Company, Public Service Company then did a joint venture with a company out of Amarillo, which created New Century Energies and just a few months ago New Century Energies announced a merger with Minnesota Power and Light. The headquarters will be moving to Minneapolis.
KELLER: Now there has been some speculation over the years that the electric utilities are looking at getting into the cable television industry. Have you…?
GREER: Well, some of them are. In fact, Minnesota Power and Light has a cable television system which they call an experiment, but it’s quite sizable over in St. Paul, I believe, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Utilities are getting into the business. We had a very interesting experience, we being Time Warner Cable, down in Orlando, Florida, where Florida Power and Light was very, very active, and Houston Light and Power, that’s where Paragon was an offshoot from. So utilities have played a major role in the business. I think you’re seeing now, with competition coming into the utility business, a more “attending to the knitting” because of the upstarts in the utility industry.
KELLER: You’re talking about the electric utilities?
KELLER: Now, you’ve also been on other boards, haven’t you? What is North American Financial Services?
GREER: Yes, that’s ING, which is an international financial services company in the Netherlands. I sit on the North American Board, which is headquartered in Atlanta. It has been a great experience. Number one, it’s given me some international experience and many of the people I interface with at the board level are from the Netherlands. People ask me, “If you had to do it over again, knowing how your career went from social work to business, would you have gone for an MBA?” I say, “No, I think I would have still gone for the MSW, especially considering the fact that the real life experience that I got in serving on a number of boards – at one time I was on a couple of bank boards, a Bank One board, I’ve been on Blue Cross/Blue Shield – so a lot of board experience and not to mention lots of community boards. I’ve chaired the United Way in Denver at a very crucial time. So the board work is very much a part of who I am today.
KELLER: Where do you go from here?
GREER: Well, I’m doing some really exciting things. I can’t really believe that I’m doing what I’m doing today, quite frankly. I really retired from Time Warner July 1st of 1998.
KELLER: Oh, almost a year ago.
GREER: Yes, and my plan really was to be retired quite frankly. I was going to continue doing community work and volunteer work, but really wasn’t interested in getting involved in any kind of job. I was approached by a man who wanted me to join his project in the Internet business. I knew very little about the internet business. What he was really interested in is very similar to why ATC hired me, was the network, introducing him to various companies, getting him involved in the business community in Denver. I was involved with him for a short period of time, long enough for me to recognize that this was really something, this Internet business My partner, Steve Stokesbury, formed a company at the end of last year, which is called GS2.net. The GS2 stands for Gayle GREER: and Steve Stokesberry – two G’s, two S’s.
KELLER: Before we get into that in any great detail, and I do want to get into it, we have to change tapes right now.
BREAK IN VIDEO TAPE
KELLER: We are now into the second tape of the interview with Gayle L. GREER:. Gayle, we just started talking about your new venture, GS2.net, which is an Internet company, is that correct?
KELLER: Give us a little bit of background on it and what you intend to do with this company.
GREER: Well, I met some people just by accident who talked to me about the Internet business, and as I said, I was really interested in being retired, so I considered investing. So I did make a small investment and later someone said to me, “You might want to pay some attention to this investment. There are really some opportunities here.” That’s when I met my partner, Steve Stokesberry, who comes out of the building and material business and is a native of Denver. We talked for awhile and the third person who’s a member of the organization is a guy by the name of Bill Marino, who has the Internet experience. We consider ourselves an Internet agency and we’re working with small and medium size businesses, helping them to develop their Internet strategy, not unlike an advertising agency or a PR agency. We just operate in the Internet medium and we develop websites. We host them, we develop the databases, Intranets, Extranets; today we have an online community up and running. It’s an e-commerce site for nonprofit organizations. We are now looking at a couple of other online communities. One of the things that kind of intrigues me also, about the Internet, is so much of the web applications that are so applicable across industries and we’re currently looking at an idea, concept, of developing an online application in the customer service area that some small and medium size cable companies, in fact I’ve done some talking to people since I’ve been here at the show.
KELLER: Are you talking about training?
GREER: No, I’m talking about actual customer service.
KELLER: Actually taking over the customer service of these companies?
GREER: Yes, exactly. Where people can go online and order their services, disconnect their services, pay their bills, order pay per view, file a complaint. The cable system can survey, do marketing, you have everybody’s email address so instead of the postage, you can send out emails and your customers can email you back. It’s a 24-hour, 7 day a week customer service effort.
KELLER: How has it been received?
GREER: Well, it’s still very much in the concept stage.
KELLER: How about here at the convention?
GREER: I’ve been talking to people about it and people are interested in hearing more about it and we will be talking to cable operators. We hope to be able to have a prototype ready at the Western Show.
KELLER: How does your cable experience relate to what you’re doing now?
GREER: Well, I think number one, it prepared me to be involved in a very entrepreneurial kind of environment because the early days of cable and the early days at ATC was certainly very entrepreneurial, so that’s one of the things. The other thing, I think, is the kind of discipline I developed working in the cable division which allow me to bring a kind of e structure in this whole Internet effort. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but when you go around most Internet companies what you find are people who look like they’re only about fifteen or sixteen years old and who are extremely talented, very, very talented. They’re artists in a lot of ways and they’re bright technically but have very little interest in governance and organizational principles.
KELLER: And managing people.
GREER: And managing people, exactly. So I’ve really kind of helped put the company together and developed the corporation, got us incorporated, found our attorneys and I’m kind of more the, what would you say, the manager of the manager in terms of making sure we’ve got our financials in place, that we are doing our reporting and those kinds of things. It’s been a fun project. I really had no intentions of working very much in it and I’m now working almost as hard as I was working back at ATC, with not much money, I must say we’re not able to pay ourselves yet, but it’s been a fun project.
KELLER: As this thing develops, you’re planning obviously to go public at one point or another the way things are going now.
GREER: That certainly is a likelihood, but I think in talking to so many investment bankers, in fact I attended a conference of investment bankers about a week or so ago and I would much prefer being acquired, I think. One of the things that everybody tells you is that going public is so much brain damage. It is so hard and I’m not looking forward to doing that, but that’s certainly a possibility. As I said, most of my partners and the people who I work with are a lot younger and a lot more energetic, so they may want to take it that way, but I think there’s probably a better likelihood of being acquired.
KELLER: As you look back on your twenty years in the cable television business, what are the things that you remember most vividly? I know it’s a difficult question.
GREER: What do I remember most vividly? Well, one of the things I remember most vividly was that when I joined the company as a manager and knew very little about cable television, I was so impressed with the fact that I was only a few feet from the CEO of the company, and the access that I had to the leadership and the senior management of the company. That is something that I remember because I talk to my friends who are in other industries, who were in the lower ranks as I was when I went into the industry, who never saw their CEO. So I remember that. I remember feeling very much a part of the team as a very junior person.
KELLER: Monte Rifkin was ubiquitous, we know that.
GREER: He was exactly that. So that’s one of the things I remember. Certainly there are a lot of franchising stories. The one that I think I am the most proud of, though, involves David Kinley. We were involved in a franchising project in a Southern city and the local partner was not very excited about my involvement and I remember one morning, there was a meeting called and of course David and I showed up for the meeting. The partners were very cordial, drinking coffee, having doughnuts, etc., and then when the partner decided to open the meeting, he asked me to leave. So I left and went back to my hotel. Shortly thereafter, David came and said, “That’s not going to work. We are going back there and I will tell the partner that if he can’t work with you, he won’t work with the company.” He did that. I always wondered what would have happened if the partner had called Monte, if the outcome would have been the same. I believe it would have, but David took some risk there and I will always remember that. That partner, by the way, who has since died, we became good friends and in fact we exchanged Christmas cards over the years. That was in my early years of franchising, but that was a proud moment. That was a very competitive, as you know, kind of experience and to take that position that David took was very powerful to me and was something that will always be on my mind. I will not forget it.
KELLER: Well, ATC was that kind of company, there’s no question about that. Anything else?
GREER: Well, I think it’s just the many, many people. All the efforts around the country and all the energy that went into this. I always call it the “fun time” in the industry. One of the things that was required was teamwork. There were so many departments and people required to get a proposal together and to make a presentation and I ran into Gene Linder here not too long ago, and he and I were talking about this very same thing. Those were, as we say, the “good old days” when you knew everybody. As I walk through this show today, it’s just amazing that there are so few people I know and I can remember a few years ago, I knew everybody. If I didn’t know them I certainly knew their faces or they were very familiar. Now I feel like the stranger. I think my first convention there were about four or five thousand people, or something like that. It was not very big, it was in Las Vegas, but this has really grown to be something. So that’s another thing, just to be a part of something that has just grown right before your eyes has also been quite an experience.
KELLER: Are you a bit saddened about getting out of the industry?
GREER: No, not really. I can’t imagine, even if I was going back, I would never have thought that I would have stayed on that job for twenty years with that company, or any company. My history before then was three years here, five years there and I had no intentions of staying with ATC that long. I was going to go back to social work. So, it was a wonderful twenty years, but it got to the place where I really wanted to do some other things. I wanted to run my own shop. The company certainly was going to give me an opportunity to do that, but I had to leave Denver.
KELLER: How would that have worked? Where would that have been?
GREER: Well, who knows? We talked about Austin, Texas, we talked about a number of places, but that was what would have had to have happened because as you know, the company really moved all of its cable operations out of Denver and after I left the national division there were very few operating jobs left in Denver. In order to be able to take an operating job, I was going to have to leave Denver. But on top of that, I wanted to do something else, I really did. Twenty years, I think, is enough to be doing what I was doing. As I said, it was a wonderful experience and I’m certainly the better for it, but I think it was time.
KELLER: What would you have done differently than what you did? Although you’ve been very successful with what you’ve done.
GREER: I’m not so sure there would be a lot of things that I would have done differently. I really don’t think so. I think that I would have probably been about the same. I may have been a little bit more outgoing. I lot of people find that, when I said that to someone here not too long ago, they found that to be interesting. I hear so many people who I meet now in various places who have said, “You know, I never really got to know you.” I think that had a lot to do with the fact that I did my job and always felt that I should have been a social worker. Here’s a social worker in this cable industry. So I always kind of felt like I had on two left shoes, but as I look back I may would have been a little bit more outgoing, but I don’t think that I would have changed very much. It’s been a wonderful career and I’ve made very wonderful friends and it has enable me to do what I’m doing today.
KELLER: Did you make any mistakes?
GREER: Oh, of course I did!
KELLER: Tell me about some.
GREER: Oh, I made lots of mistakes and certainly in putting together that organization. That’s where we really initially started making some mistakes in just how to go about putting together an organization. We were all very busy people and knew very little about that kind of stuff, so we did a lot of things wrong.
KELLER: You’re talking about you present situation?
GREER: No, NAMIC. I’m talking about the National Association of Minorities in Cable. We did some things there. And then when I look back on my operating days, which were probably my favorite, I enjoyed working with cable systems, some of the mistakes I made – I made some not so good hires…
KELLER: We all have!
GREER: Yes, those were some, but I also made some very great hires and I really spent thirteen wonderful years with some cable systems. I really miss that. I really miss the cable operations, I must admit. That was a very exciting time. I also was very instrumental in bringing a number of the Kaitz fellows into the industry and being in that position. So that certainly was something I did right. I’m one of those kinds of people, I reflect very briefly on mistakes, only to make sure I get the lesson from it and go on.
KELLER: Did you have any idea what you were getting into when you first joined ATC?
GREER: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. I just, as I said, I was leaving a place. That really was how I ended up in Denver. I was a single mom at that time and I just wanted to raise my son in a much larger, metropolitan kind of community. So I was really leaving a place, but I was not leaving social work, really in my mind and in my heart I wasn’t leaving social work. I was going to take a job and find another social work job, quite frankly, so I really had no idea what was going to take place and the kind of opportunities that opened up at that time. It was just a great time to be in the industry and I sat this morning and listened to some of the things that are going on now, and I was thinking, we promised that about twenty years ago in our franchising proposals.
KELLER: Before that.
GREER: But it has turned into an unbelievable career with absolutely no expectations. I remember when I was promoted to vice-president. I was in Indianapolis, had been working that day on the franchise and got a phone call from Michael McCrutton. He told me that we were going to do my evaluation over the phone because I wasn’t going to be able to get back and he had to get it in to Human Resources, and so I had spent most of the night writing down all of my accomplishments to be ready to at least say I’d done a good job and expect this raise. He said to me, “Well, I’ve got news for you.” And I said, “What is that.” He said, “You’ve been promoted to vice-president.” I thought he was joking. I didn’t believe him at all, and those were the days. That’s how it happened, shortly thereafter you move right on, but I had no idea.
KELLER: This was in Time, Inc. at the time?
GREER: This is pre-Time, Inc. This was ATC.
KELLER: Did you find that you were the first woman of color in an executive position – I know you were at ATC – but how about Time, Inc.?
GREER: I pretty much think in the industry at that time. There was a woman, in Time, Inc., there was a woman at one of the magazines or something, so there were a couple of women at Time, Inc. As you know, there weren’t any at ATC, but there were very, very few in the industry. Thank goodness that’s changed some, but I think that’s why I was so surprised when I got promoted because so often you look around. That’s why diversity is so important because if you don’t see people who look like you and have your experiences, you don’t aspire. You feel, no I don’t have a chance of doing that, you have to be this or you have to be that, but as people of all colors and all sizes and both genders come along, that’s so important because it gives people coming behind you hope.
KELLER: How would you advise a young woman of color getting into the industry today? What advice would you give?
GREER: Well, I would certainly say to her, whatever it is you’re doing, do it to your absolute best because of the fact that I have always felt that I happened to be black, and I happened to be a female, but I was selected for this job by David Kinley because of what I could do for the company. That to me is what is important and that’s what I would say to a young woman of color coming into the industry. You just happen to be who you are, but you will be successful on what you do and you need to stay up on things, get involved, be a part of the organizations, do your absolute best. I think I would advise something that I didn’t do very well in my early years, and that would be to have a little balance in your life and have fun. You’ve got to have some fun is what I would probably advise someone.
KELLER: You say you took it too seriously?
GREER: I took it way too seriously. I think a lot of the reason I took it seriously was because I was so afraid. I always felt like this is just not the place for me to be.
KELLER: You never showed it.
GREER: I know. That’s what everyone says to me. I have a way of hiding that kind of stuff very well. I think that I just felt like I really had to just do this right and I think it’s being my father’s daughter, who was also a very serious person and who always told his daughters, do it right the first time. So having this career was extremely important to me and I think I was a bit too serious.
END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A
START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B
KELLER: When you retired from Time Warner, I bet they hated to see you go.
GREER: Yes, they did and gave me a huge send off and that was kind of a sad occasion, I remember because I was in New York my last days in the company, and had gone up to Stamford and spent some time with people there at the headquarters office. Everybody was so kind and to this day everybody seems to be so interested in what I am doing now. I am still in touch with a lot of people at Time Warner who have been so supportive. I talk to people in Denver who are with Time Warner who always are so willing to sit down and talk to me about some things, so it was difficult for us to part on both sides, but it was a wonderful send off. It’s always good to be able, I think, to leave an experience that has taken so much of your life and have a good feeling about it. That doesn’t happen to everybody and I feel very lucky that it happened to me.
KELLER: Recalling some of your franchise efforts, what do you consider to be your greatest achievement in the franchising effort and what do you thing was the worst loss?
GREER: The worst loss was Cincinnati, let’s start there. I’ll never forget that loss. I remember Joe Collins, who was with me at that time when that vote was taken, and I had alerted Joe the night before. Much to our surprise, we thought that that was one that we were really going to win and I found out late the night before the vote that we were short one vote. I called Joe and told him that I did not think that we were going to win and he said, “How can that be?” I said, “We’re not going to win that vote.” We lost by one vote and that was about as low as I’ve been. I don’t think that I’ve had a bigger loss than that and he did everything he could to make me feel good about what I had done. The interesting thing about it was we had to get on a plane and go to New Orleans for another franchising thing. So that was the biggest disappointment, the biggest loss. I guess the biggest success, I feel, was Indianapolis, because we did win that one. I think that really where I was most successful though, was in the operating and working with my general managers. I was given a group of cable systems and these guys at Time Warner probably won’t admit this, but I think that they gave me cable systems that were what we used to call the “cash cows”. Not a whole lot going on in them, no one expected much from them and my biggest success was really demonstrating that there was a lot more life in those cable systems and many of them are still operating today. So being able to go in without using a lot of resources, capital, of developing a team in local markets, improving our customer service, which was not as difficult as it is in bigger cities because you had the face to face contact so often in these communities. I think my biggest success, I feel, was really in the operating side of the house and then to see a number of the people who I managed and who worked for me who are now themselves division presidents, like Dick Johnson, and vice-presidents in major divisions, like Leslie Grayson, so that makes you feel good as well.
KELLER: It’s always a great part of the business to see that happen.
GREER: In fact, yesterday I was on a panel with one of the guys who was in local programming, Tom Kinney, was in local programming in Council Bluffs, Iowa when I took over that area in the national division, and is now division president in Portland, Maine. So it’s really good to see people who you worked with so closely and who have now gone on and are doing very well themselves.
KELLER: You’ve mentioned some of the people who were very instrumental in your career, David Kinley’s one of them, Monte Rifkin, Joe Collins, Trygve Myhren. Anyone else in that group?
GREER: Oh, yes. There are a lot of them. Just a lot, Tom Benning, June Travis… people were just always available when I needed to talk about something. They always listened. I always tell people about, people say it’s difficult to Joe Collins, I used to hear that all the time, but I never had any difficulty in talking to Joe Collins and he was always available to talk to me. Trygve was also always available. They listened; I was one of those people when I didn’t like the way things were going and I felt there should be things to improve, I could talk about that and I could feel that they cared and some things would improve. So I hate to even start naming because there were so many. Bill Brown, who I also worked for and there were just so many and in other industries too. I developed relationships in other companies, in HBO, so I just have a great network of friends and supporters, even today as a result of that.
KELLER: Do you feel that this network will assist you in developing your new company and your new products?
GREER: Oh, without a doubt. Without a doubt. One of the things that we’re trying to do in our company is develop verticals and of course my vertical will be all in this whole communications and broadband, if we can consider some things in another vertical being nonprofits because that’s really we’re I started from and as I was talking about this application that we’re talking about putting together, the opportunity to be able to go in and talk to people and say give me your advice about this idea and that idea, that’s a result of that network. It has paid off very well.
KELLER: Gail, we’re just about out of tape and we said we would close this in about an hour and we’ve gone just a little bit over. We greatly appreciate you taking your time and be able to sit down. Thank you.
GREER: Thank you, Jim. It was good seeing you, too.
KELLER: This interview was part of the Gus Hauser Foundation Oral and Video History Program of The National Cable Television Center and Museum. It’s good to see you again Gayle.
GREER: Good seeing you, too.
KELLER: Thank you.