Interview Date: July 27, 1999
Interview Location: Denver, CO USA
Collection: WICT 20th Anniversary Collection Project
PACKARD: My name is Susan Packard. Susan Packard P-A-C-K-A-R-D.
INTERVIEWER: And the company you’re with and your title.
PACKARD: I’m with Scripps Networks. I am Chief Operating Officer of Home & Garden Television and Executive Vice President of Scripps Networks.
INTERVIEWER: All right, just to get a basic history. Could you tell me how you became involved in the cable business?
PACKARD: How I became involved in the cable business was actually through a friend of mine. Out of school –
right out of school I worked in market research and she was working at HBO and she was having a lot more fun than I was having and she recruited me to HBO and I was there eight years and that’s how I started in January of 1980.
INTERVIEWER: When you entered the cable business, what was the most striking aspect of the industry?
PACKARD: What was so striking about the industry in 1980 was that there was endless opportunity. It was a very exciting, high energy time. Back then — the franchising had just been complete and we were — the cable operators were building — we called it new builds; now we call them rebuilds — but they were just building the plant and the salespeople were selling what we called top down selling packages into the home and with HBO, we got into every home. We didn’t know at the time, some of it was based on the sizzle of the product, but also the selling of the product, but it was a time of excitement, energy and just endless opportunity.
INTERVIEWER: A lot of successful women have said that it was easier for them to enter the cable industry during the formative years because there were more opportunities. Would you agree with that assessment?
PACKARD: I don’t see a profound change in 1980 versus 1999, as far as entering the cable industry. In 1980, as part of my training, for example, at HBO, I had to climb poles with general managers, I had to be able to identify what was in a head-end, what was a receiver, what was a modulator — I had to know those things. I had to be technically literate and at that point in time those were the kinds of things you talked about to your clients and you needed to understand what their issues were. And today, one still must be very technically literate but it’s changed a little bit in that the discussion is now more on line, digital compression, pods, so the conversation’s changed a bit, but I think you still have to have the same interests and understanding what your clients — and the whole industry — what the issues are in the industry and — and I don’t think it’s changed remarkably. I think it — as long as you have those interests and you have that sensibility, you can be successful.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, well, can I ask you to make a prognosis. Where do you see the industry going in the next five or ten years?
PACKARD: Well, we’ve seen quite a bit of consolidation in the industry and that we’ve been living with for the past year or so. We’ll continue to see that — we’ll see more clustering, so there’ll be a more efficient management on the cable operator level and, of course, there will be continued growth on the DBF level, so there’ll be more homes taking all of these technologies and there will be more technology in a given home because that is going to be the way that the distributors are going to continue to make money and they have winning products and the idea of being able to go to one provider for a number of products is very efficient, but we all have to work out the operational bugs to get there, but the products are really winning new ideas, so I do believe that they’re be more consolidation and there will be more products in the home and continued growth in the whole entertainment sector.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, where do you see the industry going in the next five or ten years?
PACKARD: Well, there’ll be more millionaires. Sorry…there have been a hell of a lot in the last year or two. Seriously — where I see the industry going in the next five or ten years will be continued consolidation on the operations side, continuing — continued clustering on the operations side because it’s the most efficient way to manage the business and in the home there will be more products offered, more products delivered, there will be a bundling of all of the products that are in the entertainment sector as well as phone and these new products are really very exciting. The challenge will be to get the customer to feel comfortable that it’s easy to navigate these products. Once they understand what the benefits are, it’s a slam-dunk in my mind, but we — the challenge will be to train and educate the customer on what all the benefits are of the products. And I think they’ll be — because we’re at a certain point in the history of the industry, there will need to be even more risk-taking on the part of programmers and on the part of the operations community because we really don’t know what the last chapter is that’s going to be written with this new technology — and I think all of us have to work together and be — and innovate new businesses and new products together.
INTERVIEWER: Let’s step back a little bit and look at your success. Could you tell me — what is your greatest professional achievement? What would you say?
PACKARD: I would have to say that my greatest professional achievement has been at Home & Garden Television. In four and a half years the network has grown to over 55 million homes, we’re in four continents and a number of countries throughout the world and that’s such rapid growth — the management team at HGTV is responsible for that and I participated in that growth and it’s one I’m most personally proud of.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, I read that HGTV made a profit before it was expected. Were you prepared for its phenomenal success?
PACKARD: We had a plan five and half years ago before we launched the network that it would be profitable in a certain year and it was. We had a very disciplined operation and the senior management team brings tremendous expertise to each of the functional areas so together we worked and we were successful.
INTERVIEWER: What were some of the elements, do you think that led to your personal success, like what personal qualities do you possess?
PACKARD: Some of the qualities that have helped me in my career are my tenacity. I instill trust and I deliver on that. I have very strong work ethic(s) and I have a fun-loving personality. Truly though, in this business you have to work hard and play hard — it is the key to success and I do participate in that.
INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me about how you were initially recruited to work for HGTV?
PACKARD: How I was initially recruited to work for HGTV. There are two parts to that story. The first part was I was working at another programmer and scripts — cable was still an entity — before we sold the cable systems to Comcast and I was calling on them so I knew the company — I knew the company very well — but I had no interest in leaving my current job — and a couple of gentlemen went to the Western Show and this would have been back in 1994, they went to the Western Show and circled the booth where I was standing and representing this particular network. Days on end. I mean after about day three they started to really annoy me and I went up to one of them and said, “Who are you and what do you want?” And they laughed and said — they identified themselves and said that they had really wanted to talk to me about a position at HGTV. Now HGTV was just a glimmer Ken Lowe’s eye at that point in time and Ken was one of these two gentlemen and they were from broadcast, so they were feeling very alien at the Cable Show. But we talked, I saw the presentation, I saw the thinking and was tremendously impressed and signed on.
INTERVIEWER: What was one of the more exciting aspects about starting the network?
PACKARD: There — in this business there are — probably the majority of the people in this business are start-up people. People I have met, the successful people, have the energy, the drive, the determination. Start-up is very exciting because you don’t know — you’re writing it. You don’t — every day is a new day. It’s completely unpredictable and you help put your own stamp on something that will hopefully live on for your children and your children’s children and that’s the exciting — it’s the unknown and every day was unknown and really we still — I mean we’re at 55 million homes for Home & Garden and 40 million for food, but we’re launching another business in the fall and we’ll continue to innovate and I do believe that’s a way to retain the talent in this industry is you allow them to continue to innovate.
INTERVIEWER: You know that your network has often been praised as providing intelligent programming for women, I was wondering — did you all sit down at the beginning and decide what is our programming going to be like? How are we going to speak to the women in America?
PACKARD: It’s interesting because our programming is run by two men who have — they’re gender neutral in terms of how they view the content — but what they had said from the beginning is, the mantra is to provide ideas, information and inspiration — the three i’s — and they have just stayed true to that from the beginning to today and I think that kind of discipline and focus has been a key to our success. I have heard women who are at home say to me that they don’t like to normally turn on television during the day because it’s demeaning and they found Home & Garden as a source of inspiration and they’re — it’s on for them often the whole day, which is a real compliment to our programming people.
INTERVIEWER: Maybe now we can talk a little bit about role models and mentoring. Do you have any contemporaries you view as role models?
PACKARD: There are so many women in the business today that I view as role models that I’ve learned so much from. A couple of women stand out in my mind — June Travis and Ruth Warren. They have come from the operations side and that’s a very tough environment to be a part of if you’re a woman because there are very few women in it. Many more women in the programming and creative side and they have been true trailblazers and at all times that I’ve seen and talked to them, been with them, have carried themselves with so much grace and are probably a little bit understated relative to some women in the business today who tend to be spokespeople for any number of causes for women, but I think that’s okay. I just have tremendous respect for them. I would name those two.
INTERVIEWER: I’m sure a lot of young people would use you as a role model. Would you have any advice to give them about entering the industry?
PACKARD: If people see me as a role model, that means I’m officially old, so I hope that’s actually not true. Advice coming into the industry — you need to be technically literate; you need to be comfortable with technology — be able to talk about it, discuss the issues. You need to be well-read. Read as much as you can at all times. Read every interview, because you get points of view. Talk to people in the industry so that you’re conversant and knowledgeable, but you must be comfortable with on-line, internet — that is the future. Be honest, that’s very important. And have fun. I mean it’s just work — it’s not that serious.
INTERVIEWER: I’d like to talk a little bit more about women in the industry. Are you satisfied with the progress that women have made overall in the cable and telecommunications industry?
PACKARD: Women have made tremendous progress in the creative and programming sides. I’ve seen less progress on the operations side, so if I had to lodge a complaint it would be that I’d like to see more women promoted on the operations side. I think Leo Hendry and others have done a wonderful job of getting women in higher profile positions. There needs to be more of that. I’d also like to see — it’s been interesting watching the Case Organization, which is a minority organization, as you know, and in my experience there’s been one African-American man honored and that was two or three years ago — Bob Johnson — and there have been no women, so I’ll feel that the circle is complete when there’s a Case nominee who is actually a woman.
INTERVIEWER: There was a lot of talk in the early ’90s about a glass ceiling. Did you ever think there was a glass preventing women from reaching their full potential and does it still exist now?
PACKARD: There’s been so much written about glass ceilings. I think glass ceiling boils down to lifestyle choices. There is some gender bias and there will be some gender bias. Hopefully the new generation of young adults coming into the business don’t see. Hopefully everyone’s gender blind. It still exists today for those of us who have been around for a while, but the bigger issue in my mind is one chooses to go as far as they want to go based on their overall lifestyle choices and historically, anyway, men have been very focused on career and the ladder — stepping the steps up the ladder and career — and women have had a much broader view of their life and the world, their relationships, their goals and their interests in advancing themselves in any number of ways. And if you want to say that that has created a glass ceiling, maybe that’s true, but I do believe that we make our own success and we make our own life choices and I’m very proud, for example, of the ones I’ve made and I have pretty good balance in my life, but I have a lot more than just my work.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think women are shifting their attitude towards careers recently?
PACKARD: I only see women — as far as shifting attitude toward their careers, I do see a number of women leaving corporate America. That is happening; that is a fact. And it has to do with the people running these various businesses and not being enlightened enough to recognize that their — the time requirements of being a parent, a spouse, a daughter — are such that flex time and other things — benefits just must be taken up several notches if corporate America wants to retain talented women. They just go off on their own and they create their own businesses and then they have much more ability to structure their time the way they need to structure it and can still be successful.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. All right. You talk a little bit about balance and how you start to achieve balance. I’m sorry, back up for a second. I wanted to ask you about the culture at Home & Garden Television because I know you implemented the Women’s Forum and you’ve done — very conscientious about making sure that women can integrate their lives. Would you talk a little bit about Home & Garden and how you create a family from the work place?
PACKARD: You create a family from the work place if you have enlightened management and that’s not just me. The team at Home & Garden and Ken Lowe who runs it were all supportive of family friendly policies because it’s good business and it’s been proven that it’s good business. We have implemented the Women’s Forum, which is a way for the employees to step outside of themselves, to see someone else that has nothing to do necessarily with our business, talk about issues that are relevant to their lives — whether they’re balance issues or ways to advance themselves educationally, whatever and this is hopefully relevant to men and women, although it’s always — the critical aspect of it is that it’s always relevant to women, but hopefully it’s relevant to everyone who participates.
INTERVIEWER: Well, as you know the industry is very demanding and people today are concerned about balance. In your life how have you been able to achieve balance or have you?
PACKARD: Life balance is an ongoing quest. I am very fortunate because I have a husband who quit teaching to do the parenting. I am very unusual. It’s individual and it’s one of those things that a woman who wants to have many dimensions to herself and her life has got to get comfortable with the fact that one can’t be perfect really in any one of them, but you can only give the best you can give to each of them and you’re going to spread yourself in any number of directions in doing so. That’s okay. I mean, I think that’s what makes life go round and — but if you were to ask me — do I feel I have achieved life balance? No. I think it’s an ongoing goal.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think it’s a reasonable goal for women to hold for themselves?
PACKARD: You know I don’t know. If you were to ask women who are home, for example, raising children, I don’t believe they would say they have life balance because a woman plays so many roles and is asked to do any number of things and this may sound sexist, but it’s not at least historically what men have been asked to do. They are very focused on career, providing financial support, those kinds of things. Now again I hope this all changes and I’m seeing lots of changes with young adults coming into the work force, but I don’t know that — I would be surprised if you did a survey and you brought ten women in here and they were all from different walks of life if eight out of ten of them said they did not achieve life balance — that would make sense to me.
INTERVIEWER: Was there a point in your life where you just — where you struggled with the question or — and then came to a reasonable solution or have you been just questioning all along whether or not your particular life is balanced?
PACKARD: It has helped tremendously that I have my husband doing the parenting and that was — when we moved to Knoxville that was the choice that was made so we’ve been — I’ve been with Home & Garden — now I’m into my sixth year and that’s been our situation since the beginning and it provides a great amount of comfort for me.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Could I ask you a few questions about Women in Cable & Telecommunications?
INTERVIEWER: Okay. I was just wondering how you see WIC influencing the industry of ours.
PACKARD: WIC is — it’s a tremendous organization that brings in a wide stratosphere of women from various walks of their career life and what’s wonderful about it, especially in my mind, is the chapter branches who can localize but still provide — they’ve got the discipline of the national organization behind them, but they can also localize to their community and in all cases it’s educational so it advances you intellectually and it’s social and it’s just it provides a wonderful forum for young women coming in and for senior women as well.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember how you initially became involved in it?
PACKARD: Pam and I were talking — Pam Williams and I were talking about the fact that this is the 20-year anniversary of WIC and this is my 20-year anniversary in the business, but I don’t think I was involved the first couple of years. The way I got involved was through the Michigan organization. I helped to found the Michigan chapter and then from there was involved as I moved to other cities in getting the other chapters. In many cases they were already up and running, but I was just involved.
INTERVIEWER: Do you see WIC at all — has it changed significantly since you joined or do you think it stayed true to its original goals?
PACKARD: I had — I had based on time constraints and challenges — personal challenges — I had, I don’t want to say left WIC but I had not been active in WIC for a number of years after the ’80s and then I got back involved I guess four years ago and was asked to be advisor on the board and was what I remarked upon at that time was how much more sophisticated the organization had — had gotten. It’s a very well-run business.
INTERVIEWER: I know you have a [???] expectations, questions that I might ask you. Is there any question that I missed that you would like to address or something you want to say that I didn’t ask about[???]or the industry?
PACKARD: I don’t think so.
INTERVIEWER: You talked a lot about how people need to be technological savvy. Do you think that these changes in the industry are going to have an effect on women? Will there going to be more opportunity?
PACKARD: So much is dependent upon your educational background and the degree to which more women get into the engineering fields, the computer science fields, the math fields, the fields that have traditionally been male bastions. We’ll have the biggest influence on women. If they’ve got the schooling and the background and the comfort level with new technologies, new media and I do see — if you look at Silicon Valley, for example, look at the number of women who are in very senior positions or CEOs, so I think this realm of new media — as Ruth would call it, new media — will allow women, allow more women to get into the business and be successful in the business.
INTERVIEWER: Well, thank you very much, I appreciate it.
PACKARD: Thank you very much.
INTERVIEWER: Thank you, Susan.