Interview Date: 1999
Interview Location: New York, NY
Program: WICT 20th Anniversary Project
LARKIN: Okay, I am Lucille Larkin, L-U-C-I-L-L-E Larkin L-A-R-K-I-N and I’m the lead media person for the Philadelphia regional census center covering five states for Census 2000.
INTERVIEWER: How did you originally get involved in the cable industry?
LARKIN: I originally got involved in the cable industry because Tom Wheeler’s wife and I worked together at Carl Bier & Associates. Tom Wheeler was the Executive Vice President of the National Cable Television Association and the slot they had open was Vice President for Public Affairs.
INTERVIEWER: What was the most striking aspect of the cable industry when you first entered it?
LARKIN: It was then as it still is, a dynamic growth organization, almost takes your breath away. There were moments between then and now when it kind of slowed down a little bit, but not very much.
INTERVIEWER: Did you see the changes in the cable industry the last few years as being advantageous to women?
LARKIN: Probably things that are now and in the future I shouldn’t answer. I was in the industry for 15 years, but that one is an obvious yes — just because they’re hiring more women at higher levels all the time and because of the dynamism of the industry has to be good for women.
INTERVIEWER: How did the industry change during your 15 years?
LARKIN: Well, it went from a start-up programming operation to a full tilt programming operation. At one point Women in Cable began Cable Day for the National Entertainment Press, the same as they would go around and see all the broadcaster’s new shows, Women in Cable sponsored a cable day where they came around and saw all of our shows and was useful for the general public to get to understand cable television is getting to be a player in this entertainment industry and it sure enough is a player now.
INTERVIEWER: Let’s talk about yourself. What would you say are the major factors contributing to your success?
LARKIN: Well, that presumes one is successful, right? That mean that I haven’t died yet, that’s a success for starters. I came from a really strong family. I had a widowed mother, which in those days, it was very difficult. She was left her husband’s business and she was able to run that for a few years before the obligatory sale from the probate judges. She was a kind, a good, and an honest woman who valued her friends and found a lot of value in human beings and I think that rubbed off. She loved to entertain, but her whole life was based on really respecting her fellow man and doing well by them and I think that has affected my sisters and myself, I hope it has, and it’s one of the things in life I enjoy the most.
INTERVIEWER: What would you say is your greatest professional achievement in the cable world?
LARKIN: In the cable world, I really am very proud of the role that I played in the start-up of Women in Cable. I think the industry has been fabulous for women and I think women have been fabulous for the industry.
INTERVIEWER: How do you think WICT has influenced the cable industry?
LARKIN: I hope that the cable industry is softer and more professional in a very positive way than it might have been if women hadn’t entered into the industry. I think we’re expert managers. I think we can be quite competitive, but I don’t think we’re competitive that we knee-cap our competition. I think we want to outperform our competition. I think women are very good in business.
INTERVIEWER: Could you share a success story from WICT’s early days?
LARKIN: Our very first start-up meeting was in 1979 and by 1982 we had succeeded in mounting our very first cable television management seminar, that was with the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and a combination of the Wharton School of Business and the Annenberg School of Communications, which I thought at the time was magic and when we were able to pull in seven cable television CEOs, operators, and contributions from all of them and their participation in that management conference with Wharton and Annenberg, I finally believed that we could make a difference in the industry. I think we have.
INTERVIEWER: How did you convince the CEOs to participate?
LARKIN: Everybody’s got an ego and if you promise somebody a platform and press coverage, I think they’re mostly inclined to come. We had to sweeten the pie with first Annenberg and Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania, it’s very attractive and then Harvard University and then the Kellogg School at Northwestern. We pulled out all the stops. We did whatever we could to get them to understand that this was a very serious adventure and that we valued their input and that we valued their opinions of things and naturally that satisfied another one of Women in Cable’s goals that they couldn’t help but be exposed to some of the best women in the cable television industry and they did meet them, they did meet us, they saw what we did and they were impressed.
INTERVIEWER: How do you feel about mentoring — did you receive such mentoring in the industry or do you feel you served as a mentor to anyone?
LARKIN: I think mentoring is extremely important. I think you can survive well without it. I, for the most part, I have survived without mentoring. In the one instance in my life that I had a valued mentor, I remember that life was easier. I worked harder, but with the support I got, I worked with more security. I got a lot of reinforcement for the particular mentor that I had, but in the cable television industry, I really wasn’t in a position to be mentored. I did have a couple of people on the board of directors to whom I knew I could always turn to say — what’s this about; how do I answer that? When I was dealing with the press, cable television still was not a very known commodity and that was one of the programs that we in the National Cable Television Association had to do, was to educate the media so that the public would understand more about the industry and I knew I had people that were on the Board of Directors of the National Cable Television Association that would be good and solid resources for me.
INTERVIEWER: What was your biggest challenge while you were at WICT?
LARKIN: For a long time we were on a very tight budget, that was one challenge, and for a long time even the people that helped start WICT had to ask themselves every day if this was appropriate. There’s always a question when you’re starting a women’s professional organization of does it separate you out even further from the decision-making powers and in the cable industry. At that time, they were almost all men. It was a very hardware oriented industry before HBO went on the satellite and programming came in, so that was always a question: are we doing the right thing? Is this going to get women ahead or is it going to separate them further from the decision-making processes?
INTERVIEWER: Can you think about a particular instance where the debate about whether or not something was appropriate came up?
LARKIN: Almost every single national board meeting it came up and it was often put to us again by many of the chapter presidents — why don’t you change your name? Why don’t you include more men? We have always included men and we have about 13 percent of our membership that is male. I will say that we never got too relaxed in Women in Cable. Almost every single national board meeting and often times between board meetings from the presidents of chapters the question was posed — do we need to be Women in Cable? Can we not be Professionals in Cable? Do we need to be separated out from the men? Do we need a women’s organization at all? And every single time we made the decision we opted for having women in the name and we opted for having a women’s organization. And even today despite the fact that we’re not coming into the industry any more, we run a good portion of the industry. I still believe that women need the kind of support and synergism that they get from being together and I thoroughly believe that men need the support and synergism they get from being together, but I do think we’re a wonderful combination.
INTERVIEWER: Did Women in Cable consult any other existing women’s organizations at the time or was it pretty much on its own?
LARKIN: We were very much on our own. Within a year of the time we started up everybody knew — everybody meaning other professional women’s organizations — about us, particularly women in communications and American women in radio and television and we were courted by both of them to join their ranks. That was tempting. They had a hierarchy, they had a mature industry they represented, they had money, they had staff. It was very tempting to look at that but every time we’d think seriously about it some more new wonderful thing would happen in the cable industry and we knew we were where the action was and why should we go elsewhere at the moment — but we kept our options open.
INTERVIEWER: Do you see WICT as different from other professional associations?
LARKIN: Well, some of them started before we did. Some of them started after we did. When I left as the Executive Director of Women in Cable, I looked around to find an appropriate home and one of the things I looked at was how these other association management operations managed women’s organizations and I found one that had managed women in banking and I liked what I saw, I liked the professionalism that they fostered, I liked the financial arrangements in foundations and educational foundations that they fostered and that’s ultimately what Women in Cable opted to do and before we were grown up enough to have our own staff, that was a very good choice.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have any advice you would give young women today? Do you think there’s still a need for professional associations directed at women?
LARKIN: I thoroughly believe that young professionals should join both a women’s organization and any other professional organization in their industry that they can afford to join because you get a lot of knowledge, get a lot of history of the politics of the organization which is terribly important and I think as far as joining a women’s organization, you will always get slightly better mentoring now and I do believe that the women’s organization gives you a sense of the reality of your situation. Denise Cavanaugh, who is one of the consultants that came to help Women in Cable said, women’s groups are a reality check — is this really happening to me? Yes, it is and you don’t have to stand for it or yes, it is and are you thankful for it? You asked if I was inspired by anything…
LARKIN: I have to say that the women’s movement — well, I — being a fairly conservative type as far as women’s issues are concerned, I probably was a barnacle on the tail of the progress of women’s movement of the ’60s and the ’70s, but Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, had to have quite an influence on any professional woman to give them the kind of again, reality check about what women were all about and what they could achieve. I am a strong supporter of the women’s movement, but I support more what it goes with and what it turned out to be and by that I mean, its goals were to give us voices. If we wanted to be professional, there should be a place for us in the business community. If we wanted to be a homemaker, there ought to be a way that we could successfully do that. That’s not what happened in the beginning. What happened in the beginning is a lot of us thought we could have it all, and sure enough we got it all and it’s not possible for us to have it all successfully. You can’t without really taking a great personal toll on yourself. It is very hard to be an executive and handle that kind of responsibility and handle the responsibility of a couple of kids at home and husband.
INTERVIEWER: Well, today a lot of professionals are focused on the issue of balance and I wonder towards the beginning of Women in Cable, did the idea of balance ever enter your discussions or was it just taken for granted that women who had careers would have a balanced life?
LARKIN: To tell you the truth when you look back on it, nobody in that first board of directors had children. I don’t know whether that was an accident or not and I never thought about it until this minute, but they soon did and the minute we started having people come into the ranks that had children, we immediately started talking about balance in life. There were a couple of companies that tried some very exciting things. They had mother support systems and that was supported by the corporation. A woman, who was a member of — in very good standing of Women in Cable — was the vice president of a very large company, she could call up and get an instant babysitter, one of two or three that she knew of at the time if she had suddenly to go on a plane and go out of town that would cook her husband dinner, she knew the routine for the children. She could call up and get her groceries shopped for in the afternoon if she had to have a dinner party that night. She had to have a wife and she did through these paid services.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think that Women in Cable grew and addressed these issues, as you said, as their board of directors started facing these life choices?
LARKIN: I can’t say for certain that that’s true, but I do know that the people with whom I discussed them were definitely in that mode and that was a very serious concern of theirs and because it was a very serious concern of theirs, of course, we talked about it and looked at it. I just ran across an old newsletter in which a woman named Tobin out of Showtime had just been discussing with me her difficulties in finding a live-in au pair for her children and I said — write that up; everybody needs to know that. What kind of standards you set? How you interviewed? What you paid? What you were willing to give up? What you wanted her to do and what you were willing for her not to do for that kind of money — and she did. And I think that was a very interesting way to exchange that kind of information because I can tell you a lot of women read that article. And speaking of articles, I remember feeling it necessary one day when we were building the chapters, women at that point weren’t very comfortable with supporting some of their leaders and if you hang onto your leaders, you give them support while they give you light and I remember in titling the article that I wrote, “Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way” because there was some damage being done in some of the chapters at the time that needed to be corrected and fortunately that time passed long since and the strength of the organization has grown and grown and grown as the comfort zone of professional women supporting each other in their leadership positions have grown.
INTERVIEWER: Should I ask a question about Gail [Sermersheim] because this is a banquet honoring her. Do you have any good memories of Gail you’d like to share? I’m sure you have good memories of Gail. Would you like to share any of them?
LARKIN: Well, as I mentioned earlier, she’s Bubbles to my Trixie and we were a real item in the cable television industry for all those year when we were starting Women in Cable and that frankly was our success. We are very, very different and each one of our differences combined to give a very dynamic start-up, I think, to Women in Cable. She is a very good manager. She is very objective. I’m very analytical and I like to set goals; Gail likes to achieve goals. Gail is in for the long term; I like start-ups. I can’t stay around too long after that, so we were a great combination. We had a delicious time working together. She had the full force and backing of HBO in everything we did. She had a very good sense of politics in the industry. She never let us go off the deep end. We were always going in an acceptable fashion, but we pushed the edge of the envelope as much as we could. She is my dear friend and I think the industry is so lucky to have had Gail Sermersheim.
INTERVIEWER: Are there any questions that you’d like to be asked? Anything you’d like to address?
LARKIN: Oh, no. I hope we’ve done some service. I thought Gail and I were getting quite morose in some of those things and I hope you’ll cut them out of there. I did want to make sure that we got the history down.
INTERVIEWER: The only other thing is, when you were running Women in Cable you didn’t have an office, so you mostly did it out of your home, is that…
LARKIN: No, I had an office by the time — Larkin & Company was up and running by the time we took that on. Maybe for six months we weren’t, but that was — we did the travel business, that was really true, but that was fun.