Kathleen Marron

Kathleen Marron

Interview Date: Wednesday December 22, 1999
Interviewer: Ruth Hartman
Collection: WICT 20th Anniversary Collection Project

MARRON: I’m Kathleen Marron. I’m a partner at Robbins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi.

INTERVIEWER: How did you initially become involved in Women in Cable and Telecommunications?

MARRON: Well, I first became involved because I heard about the organization from Madie Gustafson, who is with AT&T Broadband and Net Services now. And at the time, I think she was still at United and was on the national board and had told me about it. And I represent a number of cable companies in the industry. I’m a lawyer in a law firm.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Well, I know during your presidential year, the membership at WICT climbed to 3,500. Was that a special achievement for you?

MARRON: Well, yes. I think that climbing to 3,500 numbers was one of the great achievements of the organization when I was on the board and was president. I think perhaps an even greater one my year of presidency is the strategic plan that we developed to prepare us into the next millennium. It was a great deal of fun and I learned a lot through the experience and some very interesting and powerful women contributed to that strategic plan.

INTERVIEWER: Could you talk about how WICT helped you grow professionally?

MARRON: Sure. WICT has helped me grow professionally in a number of different ways. Not only through leadership and being able to serve as president of the organization and run the board of director meetings and all of that. The public speaking that I’ve done. Obviously, as a lawyer, what I do is public speaking for a living. But it’s given me an opportunity to talk to professional women all over the country about a number of issues that are–I feel passionate about leadership, mentoring, advocacy.

INTERVIEWER: Well, could you talk about your attitude towards mentoring? Do you have a philosophy towards mentoring young women and young men in the profession.

MARRON: I do have a philosophy about mentoring. I think that some people are intimidated by the word because it really doesn’t have to be something more complicated that simply making sure that you’re always including people who are junior to you in your decision making processes and in the process of–blah, blah, blah. Let’s start that one over.

INTERVIEWER: Alright. Video tape is wonderful that way. And if I ask you something you don’t want to answer, we can–

MARRON: What was the question?

INTERVIEWER: Do you have a philosophy of mentoring?

MARRON: Well, I do. It’s simply that mentoring is a way of life. And I don’t think you have to have some special title. Because a mentor can come in all different shapes and sizes. In fact, I feel like I’ve been mentored by people who work for me. As long as you’re open to learning as–and being mentored by someone else, you have a lot more opportunities for that. That’s my approach to mentoring, is to always be thinking about it. And I think that it’s critically important especially for women to have some role models and mentors in order to succeed. It’s important for everyone, but since we don’t have a lot of female role models, to have a mentor, I think, is very important.

INTERVIEWER: Did you have any special role models in your life who mentored you?

MARRON: Yes. I have. Most of my mentors in the legal profession have been men. I mean, in the cable industry, it’s one of the things that really attracted me to the cable industry. Is there are so many women at all different levels of the companies in the industry. Even though we still have a long ways to go, it’s so much more advanced than the legal profession. I can assure you. So, all of my mentors have been men in the legal profession. But I have a number of role models of women in the cable industry.

INTERVIEWER: Well, why do you think there are more women in higher positions in the cable industry than the legal profession?

MARRON: Well, the legal profession is still pretty traditional. And I don’t think as entrepreneurial–any where near as entrepreneurial as any communications field.

INTERVIEWER: I was just curious. I know that you’ve made plenty of lists, like 40 under 40, the Twin Cities Award. And obviously you’re very successful. Could you just describe to me some of the key elements of your personal success?

MARRON: That was the question I don’t want to answer. Well, I’ll do my best. Answer your question about the key elements of my personal success assumes that I have been successful. So, I guess having modesty and a sense of humor have brought me through a lot of different situations. I think that one of the elements of my success has been that I’ve embraced being a women and a female litigator in a predominantly male world. Surviving many things such as one of my first trials when the judge ordered me to make copies of my opponent’s exhibit and I was the only female lawyer in the courtroom. And so I just stood up and said, “Well, my paralegal would be happy to show Mr. Johnson how to use the copy machine.” And while the judge wasn’t too happy for me, the jury was rolling in the aisles and they thought that was great. And as long as you keep your sense of humor, I think that people a lot of times underestimated me. Because I was a woman and because I was petite and smaller, they automatically assumed I was younger and less experienced than I was. And still do to this day. So, far from hurting me, I think being a woman has helped me in many respects. As long as you allow it to work for you and don’t work it against you.

INTERVIEWER: I’m going to ask you a balance question. So you can tell me about balancing professional [???]

MARRON: The balance question? [???] What was the question again?

INTERVIEWER: Okay. A lot of young folks today are worried about balance. How they can find some equilibrium between their personal life and their professional life. Do you have any advice for young folks and how to achieve balance?

MARRON: Well, first of all, I think life balance is an unattainable goal. And it’s a much over used word. I probably look at it more as life’s integration. I think the only way you can truly juggle all of these different roles that we have as mother, lawyer, leader, business counselor of my clients and also have a personal life is to integrate all of those roles. So what I try to do is make my clients my friends, my friends my clients. Sometimes some of my client functions we’ll all bring our children to the function as well. And so I try to integrate as much as I can. Some of the Women in Cable meetings, for example, I brought my son to one of the board meetings. And I try to combine, when I’m traveling, personal and professional purposes for every trip. So that I’m doing more than one thing at a time in trying to integrate those roles. So that I’m not feeling like I’m juggling it. Because I think you tend to drop the ball.

MARRON: Okay. You asked me about life balance and I prefer to call it life integration. [???]. I think it’s so difficult to achieve that integration of all of your different roles as mother and lawyer and leader and being involved in Women in Cable has helped me immensely in that as I see other woman I respect and admire and are friends of mine facing the same challenges. And it’s been very inspirational to me. Is that better? No?

INTERVIEWER: That’s a great answer.

INTERVIEWER: Tell me a little bit about what you do. I mean, exactly.

MARRON: Well, I’m a partner in a law firm. And I practiced there for 17 years. Got started in the cable industry in a very different way than other people because what I did is I represented a cable operator in a city in a lawsuit. A first amendment and anti-trust lawsuit. And through that case, which we won in the early 80s, I met Amos Hostetter and I met a number of people in the industry. Bob Myron was one of my expert witnesses and Jerry Lindauer and it’s a veritable who’s who of the cable industry. And through that, it just kind of snowballed and grew from that. And I’ve been blessed to have just terrific people to work with. And while there are a lot of women in the industry, which is one of the great, I think, it’s a great advantage this industry has over other industries, and it also makes it more exciting for me. The men in this industry are a lot more interesting and inclusive than men I’ve worked with in other industries. Because I do represent other industries. And through the last many years, I’ve represented a lot of different industries. And I keep coming back to this industry because it’s my favorite.

INTERVIEWER: Well, the thing is, is it’s–what’s neat about it is just where they all came from to get their–where they started to where they are today in such a short period of time.

MARRON: That’s right. And it’s very inspiring to see so many women heads of organizations and CEOs. We still need more women in the board room. And there haven’t been as many changes in the last decade as I would have expected. But still we’re doing so much better than the United States as a whole and other industries in general.

INTERVIEWER: So, what did you think of Amos Hostetter?

MARRON: Oh, I think he’s–he was delightful and very–this was a long time ago. We’re talking the early 1980s when I last dealt with him. But he had quite–he was very visionary.

MARRON: It’s exciting to have him come back into this industry.

INTERVIEWER: Actually, it’s exciting for him, too. We just did the vignette on him for the Hall of Fame inductee.

MARRON: Oh, okay.

INTERVIEWER: And just the people that we interviewed and just everybody who talks about him, just being a people person like he is.

MARRON: He is a people person. And he truly made an effort after we won that case for him to introduce me and others of my partners to all of his friends in the industry. He’s a very loyal person.

INTERVIEWER: Could you tell me about your attitude towards mentoring?

MARRON: Well, I think that mentoring is critically important to the advancement of people. You don’t come to these companies and these professions with prepared instructions on how to succeed. And there are a lot of different paths to success. I firmly believe that. We all have to find the best path, that best suits ourselves for our own personality. I liken it to, well, when I–in another life, I was a jazz musician. I played in a jazz band. And before performing, a lot of what goes into a performance is learning all of the scales. And you learn them so well that when–by the time you do perform, no one would ever guess that you had spent hours on scales and everything because it doesn’t sound like that. Well, that’s a lot of what mentoring is. You need to take sources from all different sources of information, knowledge, teaching and coaching in order to succeed. And that’s what mentoring is to me. It’s why it’s so important to me to pass it onto others. Knowledge I’ve learned. And to also be open to be mentored by people junior to me. I’ve learned from associates who worked for me. From chapter presidents when I was on the board, who had great ideas about what we should be doing nationally. Now, as long as you don’t let your ego get in the way about the source of where the information was coming from, I think you can continue to learn even if you don’t have some figurehead mentor who is more senior than you. Which a lot of times I didn’t have. Most of my mentors were men in the legal profession.

INTERVIEWER: Have you found that being a woman has been a detriment or an enhancement to your career in law?

MARRON: Well, in law, it’s kind of a mixture of both I would say. It’s been an enhancement in that–I mean, I love being a woman. I don’t try to be a man. And I think back when I first graduated from law school, that was in the days of the floppy bow ties when we were all supposed to try to look like men. And that just was never me. And I was very comfortable being myself. People tended to underestimate me being female and I look a lot more youthful than I actually am. Even though they covered up a lot of the wrinkles with this make-up. But because of that, people tended to underestimate me. And I took them by surprise. And as long as I had a sense of humor and I didn’t ever let it get me down, I knew what–that I could do the job. I think that it was an enhancement and made me a stronger person. Was it a detriment? Definitely, in terms of opportunities. I don’t think that there are as many opportunities once you get more senior in your career. Especially in law. I’ve been blessed to have a quick track to partnership. And I think one of the reasons I’ve been successful is I represent this industry. An advocate on behalf of this industry. And it is entrepreneurial and has been more accepting of me as a young woman than other industries I have represented.

INTERVIEWER: Well, could we talk a little bit about barriers to women’s achievements? There was a lot of talk in the early 90s about the glass ceiling. Do you think there ever was a glass ceiling? Does it still exist?

MARRON: Was there ever a glass ceiling? Definitely. I don’t necessarily like that term, but I can’t think of a better one. Because it really is invisible. I didn’t used to think that there was one. And I think a lot of women starting out nowadays think that there isn’t one because they see so many women at the entry levels and the middle management levels. But when you get to the very top of the companies, that’s when you experience it. And I see friends of mine, colleagues of mine going through it. Even in this industry. And this industry is better than most. The Women in Cable and Telecommunications–the pay equity gap studies that we’ve done in different sectors of the industry show that there still is a gap. Now, the good news is, it’s less than it is nationally. Because I think it’s over 20% nationally. But definitely a glass ceiling did exist. Many have broken through it. But some still have not. And I think there are a lot of reasons for that.

INTERVIEWER: Are you satisfied with the progress that women have made in corporate America at large?

MARRON: No. Because I think if you become satisfied with how far you’ve come, then you become complacent and then that’s the next step towards falling backwards again. I think we still have a long ways to go. But I’m pleased at the progress that we’ve made. I’m disappointed that we aren’t further along in having women in the board room today than we were ten years ago. I don’t see significant changes in that area of advancement.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think parity between men and women is possible within the next five or ten years?

MARRON: Well, it depends, I think that we’ve achieved it at some levels of companies. And I don’t–it depends on what you mean by parity. Because if you mean pure equality so that there’s no difference between men and women, I think there are some differences. I think at the leadership level, my belief anyway, is that while there are differences between men and women that personality and experience leads to greater differences in leadership styles. So I don’t think that men or women are inherently better qualified to lead. They are both equally qualified to lead. But they may choose to lead in a different manner. Let me just explain what I mean by that. I don’t necessarily believe that just because men and women are different, that those differences mean that a man is inherently able to lead and a woman isn’t. Or vice versa. That all women are more compassionate and so they’re going to be inclusive because I know women who aren’t. And I tend to be more of a driver personality and I think that–I have to fight that in order to be a more inclusive type of leader, which is the type of leader I want to be. But that doesn’t come naturally to me. So, I think that one of the differences in why we haven’t seen parity, yet, at the leadership level and why I’m not optimistic we’re not going to see it in the next five years is there still are attitudinal barriers and structural barriers to equality.

INTERVIEWER: Has your leadership style been influenced by gender? Do you think you have modified your leadership style over the course of your career?

MARRON: Oh, definitely. What comes naturally to me to be a driver sort of–the model that has been very successful in the past. But I think most learning organizations and companies are moving a little bit away from that. It’s the traditionally male model of command and control. And that was definitely–that’s what came naturally to me. What Women in Cable has taught me through the many different seminars and management conferences I’ve not only attended by led over the years, is to develop other different types of leadership styles when I’m in different situations. So, that I’m not just stuck in a rut and stuck with one style–the one that’s most comfortable for me. So, I definitely try to be more inclusive, more of a transformational leader. But there are times when you just need to give a direction and the job needs to get done. So the great benefit I’ve gained from involvement in Women in Cable is not only being able to learn all these things, but then to practice them with different groups of people to see what motivates and what can lead–best lead–different groups of people and different personalities.

INTERVIEWER: Can you talk about some of your more memorable events with Women in Cable? Was there an event in particular that you’re particularly proud of?

MARRON: Well, I’m definitely proud of the organization–the growth and the gala over the years. The first gala I hosted as president was when Julius Font was honored. And it was, I think, our first sell-out and it was just a fabulous event. And Mary Chapin Carpenter was terrific. And it just keeps getting better and better each year since then so I think those events have been great. Another very powerful event for me was the CEO forum last year. I was very privileged and fortunate to be invited to join this group of powerful women and go through the leadership forum at the CEO level. It was a real career changing life direction changing event for me.

INTERVIEWER: Was there a lesson in particular you learned at that event that you keep with you?

MARRON: Well, not any particular lesson. It was an intense two days of getting together with other professional women who are at very high levels in their organizations and talking about a wide variety of things from business issues to leadership challenges that we all face. And then some very inspirational speakers. Kay Koplpvitz talking to us about entrepreneurialship. It was Faith Popcorn on helping us to look at the world from a different perspective and anticipate trends. All of that helped me in formulating my own personal and professional plans and help me see them evolve.

INTERVIEWER: I know you were involved in the strategic planning initiative at WICT. How do you see WICT changing in the next five or ten years?

MARRON: Okay. I was a part of the strategic plan we put together. And we have a lot of goals for our organization in the next five to ten years. What I would hope to see us achieve is really making a difference for women. And not to get too distracted with so many projects and events that we lose sight of who we truly are and who we are here to serve. And that is to help promote women. I don’t mean promote women within the traditional corporate ladder sense of the word. But I mean promote in the sense of acknowledging them and recognizing them for their contributions to this industry. And helping provide some tools for the companies in this industry and the women to eliminate some of these attitudinal and structural barriers. So that eventually there will be no need for a Women in Cable and Telecommunications.

INTERVIEWER: Have you seen change within the industry and within corporate America at large since you began your career? Attitudinal and structural shifts that benefit women?

MARRON: Well, I’ve definitely seen structural shifts. The child care initiative and work life initiative that Women in Cable and Telecommunications started has been embraced by a number of companies in this industry. And that’s very inspiring and that’s not true in many other industries. And especially in my own legal profession. We have some child care initiatives in our firm and we have for some time. But I think we’re kind of the exception. And they aren’t as extensive as some of the companies here. I think that those kinds of changes are definitely going to help women advance. And people advance. But more likely, a woman is more likely to have a spouse who works outside of the home. And so, it’s going to have a greater impact on women’s advancement, I think, to change the work place so that it makes it more family-friendly. So that we can make a distinction between what a company prefers and what they really need to do to get the business done or the job done. Maybe the company would prefer to have a meeting on Saturday, but it’s not essential to get the job done. And there are a lot of structural changes like that, that I’ve seen already being made.

INTERVIEWER: Well, I know you have an interesting philosophy about life balance. Could you speak to that?

MARRON: Well, I do. I don’t think that life balance is truly achievable when you have as many roles as we all have without integrating those roles. So, I try to integrate my roles of mother and wife and

(End of recording on Side B.)

MARRON: When you have as many roles as we all have without integrating those roles. So I try to integrate my roles of mother and wife and trial lawyer and partner in a law firm and business counselor and advisor and advocate for people in the industry and also a leader in this organization. So, I try to combine several different things. The last board of directors meeting, for example, I brought my son, as did–I was past president and the president brought her son and the vice president brought her daughter and they all played together while we were in our business meeting. In fact, they had to tell–digress a little and tell a little funny story. My son was sitting next to me in the board meeting and looking around the room and afterwards he turns to me and he says, “Who are the–isn’t this Women in Cable?” And I said, “Yes.” And he said, “Well, I saw a couple of men in there. Do they work for you?” He was very cute.

INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me how you initially began working as litigator in the cable industry?

MARRON: I had a different sort of start in the industry from a lot of lawyers who represent this industry. Instead of doing regulatory work at first, I–our firm represented a cable operator in [???] City in a lawsuit that involved First Amendment and anti-trust claims. And after we won, obviously the client was very happy and Amos Hotstetter, throughout the course of that case and subsequent cases, Amos Hotstetter was very instrumental in introducing me and others in my firm to a lot of the people he knew in the industry. He’s a very loyal person. And very visionary. Through the course of that representation, I–Bob Myron was one of my expert witnesses, as was Jerry Lindauer and they introduced me to others. And just through the years I got into it through trying cases and handling litigation for a number of companies. But through that experience, got to know their businesses in this industry and so started doing regulatory work and business counseling. And that truly is as much a passion of mine as litigation.

INTERVIEWER: When you began your career with the cable industry, what was the most striking aspect of this industry?

MARRON: Well, the first thing I noticed is I–In another life I was also in the Army Reserves. And I was impressed by how many acronyms there were. And then I realized the military didn’t have anything on the cable industry once I joined the industry. In fact, I have a glossary of acronyms because it’s hard to keep them all straight. And they keep expanding. But on a more serious note, there are definitely more women at all levels of the companies in this industry. As compared to other industries I’ve represented. And that was very refreshing and exciting. Equally important is the men seemed more inclusive. They were more willing to take a chance on a young woman lawyer who looked young and being lead lawyer on (Inaudible) Marron and Jack Clifford were wonderful in retaining me to be lead counsel on a critical case for their company.

INTERVIEWER: Is there any question that I haven’t asked you? Something that you want to say about the industry at large? Or women in society? Or WICT?

INTERVIEWER: I have a question. You were–you made a comment as far as WICT, you know, hopefully, you know, we’re progressing where we won’t need a WICT in the future. Do you honestly feel that there wouldn’t be a need for WICT in the future. Because we’ve had a lot of people say as far as the typical [???] of WICT, maybe that part of it we wouldn’t need, but the organization itself, they would like this to be continued.

MARRON: Well, I’d like to see it continue just because it’s a lot of fun. And it’s also made me realize how important it is for women to get together and makes me realize why it’s important for guys to get together, too. So, I hope we progress to the point where it’s no big deal and the whole subject of power doesn’t get interwoven into the question of whether we’re having women’s only group or men’s only group. One of the critical–

NTERVIEWER: It was the–do you think there will be a day where we won’t need WICT? Or what are the advantages o [???] associations?

MARRON: Well, I think one of the advantages of Women in Cable and Telecommunications is that we also have men members. And you don’t have to be a women to embrace our mission. Which is really to empower women to achieve their personal and professional goals. But I don’t know if there will be a time when we won’t need Women in Cable and Telecommunications. I know I’ve said that. I hope that there’s a time when we don’t need it as a support network because we’re facing inequalities in the work place or some barriers that men don’t face. But that rather, it can be a networking group. One of the things that Women in Cable has taught me is the power of women getting together and sharing their life experiences and their personal and professional experiences. It’s also helped me to realize why it is that men want to have meetings just of men to talk about things. Where we get into trouble is where we mix business in with that and all of our business decisions are made in the context of the female only or male only environment and I don’t think that that is healthy. And I’m hoping that in the future we won’t need a Women in Cable and Telecommunications for that purpose. Because women will be included in the board room for business decisions. Even more than they are today.

INTERVIEWER: Alright, well thank you.

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