Interview Date: Tuesday July 13, 1999
Interview Location: New York, NY
Collection: WICT 20th Anniversary Collection Project
RICHEBOURG: I’m Margaret Richebourg, and that’s Margaret Richebourg, and the name spelling is R-i-c-h-e-b-o-u-r-g.
INTERVIEWER: And the company you work for.
RICHEBOURG: The company that I own is Richebourg Marketing. I’m also co-owner of Jeep, Mitsubishi and Volkswagen in Stuart, Florida, car dealerships.
INTERVIEWER: Alright. Tell me how you initially became involved with Women in Cable?
RICHEBOURG: I wasn’t expecting you to start with that question. That’s okay; let me just think for a second. I had been in the industry only a year, and actually I first became involved with Women in Cable when Women in Cable was a year old and as I think back, what really interested me is that there were some women that I respect that were putting the whole thing together, and I was curious to see what it was going to bring. I had no idea when I joined the organization what the benefits were. I did know that I was only a year old myself in the industry, and I was feeling the challenges of working in a company and an industry where there’s a very strong old boys’ network. And I remember distinctly having a feeling sitting in the conference room where it was all men and finding that some of the men when they were making their comments wouldn’t actually even look, make eye contact with any woman while they were making the contact, and I wondered if other women were having that same challenge and could perhaps give advice on how to break into what I saw then as a pretty daunting old boys’ network. So I started to get involved and I would say it was from just respecting the women who had started it up, and I was looking for the camaraderie and the advice of other women at that time.
INTERVIEWER: I know you were president in 1987, and do you have any memorable events from that year that you’d like to share with us? You could talk about the child care initiative.
RICHEBOURG: Well, actually when I was president, I think if my memory serves me that that was the year we spent a great deal of time trying to finalize the mission statement, and we were really honing into strategic plan and there was a lot of exchange about what the focus of the association would be over the years so we were in the middle of that during my year as president.
Then when I was Chair of the Foundation a few years later, the Foundation Board had decided, made the decision as part of the vision for the future to learn from what we had learned from the Cable Force 2000 study and take the trends that that taught us about work and family issues and other trends that would take place in the next decade, and make sure that all of the foundation’s product offerings would draft behind that research. And so that we would really be providing product offerings that gave solutions for companies throughout the industry and if we couldn’t do that, if we couldn’t make them real quantitative and bottom line oriented, we would not do it as a foundation. And it was at that time we decided as a first effort after Cable Force 2000 to launch the child care initiative which I was heading in that year, and I truly loved that opportunity which I might add was a great leadership opportunity that I would not have had without being a member of WIC at the time, and that I would say was my most memorable achievement. We actually proved in quantitative terms that and this was all done within the cable industry, not outside other industries, but we proved that, for example, a company that has 500 employees loses about $650,000 a year in employee turnover based on the issues of child care, and it’s definitely not a women’s issue only. The men and women throughout our industry were struggling with this and still are, and now what I really am pleased about is to find that many companies are putting into place programs that address the struggles that employees have in this child care arena and as they’re putting the programs into place, they’re seeing a direct correlation with employee morale and as employee morale goes up, work force productivity increases. So that couldn’t be more tied to the bottom line for management, and that’s the type of program that the foundation decided it would produce for the industry going forward.
INTERVIEWER: On that note, could you talk maybe about how you see WIC influencing the industry at large?
RICHEBOURG: Well, I know that I will continue to support the organization so long as it continues to address issues and provide solutions for companies that are tied to their business interest, tied to their bottom line. And I do believe as I’m no longer involved directly in the cable and telecommunications industry, I’m now in the car business, but I do believe because I’ve been watching and observing everything that WIC has been up to since I left that they’ve stayed very focused on that, and the vision for the future with the foundation and its endowment in particular is to address issues like salary parity and dependent care and other issues that truly talk to the employee’s whole perspective, not just their professional perspective, but their personal and family interests as well. And as long as WIC is making influence on the industry in those directions, then I will continue to support it, and I believe that’s the direction it will continue to go because that’s actionable and the top management will continue to respond. I mean we’ll be able to get their ear as long as we provide actionable product offerings.
I want to say one more thing on that. If Women in Cable is able to have an impact on the salary parity issue, then I think that may turn out to be the real legacy of the association. It’s tremendous that the research was done and is being received and acknowledged, and it’s no longer just a question mark. The facts are there in black and white, and it certainly wasn’t done in any male bashing fashion, it was done in very quantitative, straightforward business terms, and I would love to think that the association will have an impact on the industry with that regard. And if so, this industry will be in a leadership role because what other industries have really made inroads on women’s parity in salary. So I would love to see that take place, and I would think that would be the greatest achievement we could accomplish if it can happen.
INTERVIEWER: Did your tenure at WIC as president contribute at all to your professional or personal growth?
RICHEBOURG: Well, most definitely it did. Every leadership opportunity I had when I was serving on the board in various capacities for Women in Cable taught me new skills, management skills, that I then took back to either the department I was working in or then later when I owned my own business. For example, I learned to love managing the people on my staff in a way that would really empower them, and we were just all so motivated to be successful at Women in Cable, and that was something I definitely learned from, took the skills and applied in my job.
RICHEBOURG: You also asked if the year of my presidency had affected my personal life at all, and one thing I didn’t remember until I was looking back over my notes is that in that same year, I was the first recipient of an award called the “Rita Alex Award,” and it was for balance in your professional and personal life. And I remember being the most surprised to receive that award because I have felt it’s my greatest challenge, it continues to be my greatest challenge in life is to balance the two. My daughter’s now eight years old and gosh, at the time I didn’t even have my daughter, but I know that WIC was helping me to get a better balance. I distinctly remember one of the educational seminars that I took when I was involved with WIC probably years prior to that, we were asked to map out things like describe your life in your forties and then in your fifties and in your sixties and your seventies, may it out, try to say where you want to be. You think people do that, but I not done that before and there was another exercise that said list what matters to you from a professional standpoint in these same decades. And then from a relationship standpoint, where will you be, and then from a personal standpoint. And the point of my story is that when I got down to the personal, I didn’t have much to say and I realized that I said plenty about a family and relationship and that to me was personal, but I really didn’t have things that I was doing just for my own enrichment and my own development, really hobbies, etc. And that was a breakthrough for me and helped me to sort of get back to some of the reality that you can’t be a full rounded person if you don’t nurture that side of you.
One of the things that I’ve always cherished about Women in Cable and Telecommunications is that it is focused on the whole being, and that is the big difference to me from any other professional association or other professional associations for women is that we never shied away from the personal and family side of the members needs. We saw how critically tied in those are with your professional needs and how if those needs aren’t addressed, you won’t be working to your optimum professionally. And I respect the association for tackling that and making it a big part of its direction and focus.
INTERVIEWER: Would you have any advice for young people how to achieve balance?
RICHEBOURG: Well, I think there’s such a grand tendency to become a workaholic especially when you’re starting out and you’re needing to make your mark, and there is no question that you need to make your mark. And one of the things that I look back on that I feel is a possible piece of advice is I think it’s smart to try to really read your company and its culture, and understand because every company’s culture is so different and usually within a company, there’s some outlet that is not all business. Let’s say everyone plays golf or a lot of the management team does or something, some way that you can even be doing something for yourself while you’re also doing your professional pursuit. It’s not always easy to achieve, but I would pursue that so that you’re still if you have to be at work more hours, at least you’re able to do something for your development or make sure that you don’t neglect your health and do the gym, the workout several times a week. I find that it’s essential and I know that I have learned even more in the last six years that if I’m not clear headed through that kind of taking care of myself, I will not be as effective in my work.
INTERVIEWER: Tell me how you initially became involved in the cable industry.
RICHEBOURG: Yes, in 1979, actually that was the year WIC was formed. I was hired by Home Box Office when I just got out of MIT with my MBA and to the marketing department.
INTERVIEWER: Could you just describe, you’ve been in the cable industry for fifteen years?
RICHEBOURG: Yeah, fifteen or eighteen, I can’t remember now, yes.
INTERVIEWER: You started at HBO and then you started here at the company.
RICHEBOURG: I was at HBO for five years, and then I worked at Group W Cable which was an MSO cable operator owned by Westinghouse for three years as their vice president of sales and marketing. And then I started my own firm, Richebourg Marketing, and worked for eight years offering marketing campaigns on a national scale to cable operators throughout the country. And then I moved the company down to Florida, and I have not been working the cable industry since then.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, I’ll stick to this one. Often the cable business has been characterized as entrepreneurial or almost fraternal in nature, did you find this kind of club of mostly men proved to be a detriment or an enhancement to your career?
RICHEBOURG: Okay. The question about whether the old boys’ network, the fraternal nature of the old boys’ network was an enhancement. In my case, I would say there was some enhancement, some hindering. On the enhancement side, in particular when I started my own business, by then I had mad enough contacts with top management throughout the industry on the programmer side and on the cable side, and I was able to offer a product that was serving the cable operators and four MSOs actually provided the seed money for me to offer my first product offering, and they were definitely all members of the old boys’ network I would say that I went to and asked for that help and they were willing to help me start my business so I couldn’t have been more pleased with that. On the hindering side, there was one individual, a boss that I had at the last year that I was at Home Box Office who I didn’t feel valued my contribution as well as the other people I was working with at Home Box Office. And so I left and moved to another company, and that was the one instance where I felt there was a hindering because I couldn’t seem to find my way out from under that challenge so I left and moved to another company.
INTERVIEWER: Some successful women in business have said it was easier for them to enter the cable industry during its formative years because there were no definite rules. Was that your experience?
RICHEBOURG: I would say most definitely it was just a fantastic time to enter the industry in those early days. We were so charged up and there was rapid growth and there was a team building spirit that you felt throughout the industry. It was not just in the company that I worked in although there was a lot of high spirited HBO in those days, but it was an altogether exciting time of growth for the industry and fun. The business was really fun and it was easier to get into the business. A lot of it was that we were building an industry from the start. This may sound really absurd but working in the marketing department, there were things we were able to try that we all wanted to, it was very creative, it was almost sometimes like playing dress up when you were a kid, I mean we were really in a euphoric period of time in the industry.
INTERVIEWER: Did have a sense of yourself as a pioneer at the time starting anew?
RICHEBOURG: I’m not sure that I really saw it that way at the time. I think we all were having such a good time at pulling it together and seeing the results happen so immediately for whatever you were putting into place. We would work hard, play hard, and everyone was traveling and making connections all over the industry and meeting and greeting. It was just the industry was very, very different from the consolidation that is now in place.
INTERVIEWER: Can I ask you a little bit about the consolidation? Do you think in the long run that it will be helpful to women or it’s going to damage their career?
RICHEBOURG: I think I’m going to pass on that one because I’ve been out of the industry for five years. Although I see that consolidation is the big thing that’s happened, I’m not the one. You should get some people who are right in the middle of that to do the crystal ball.
INTERVIEWER: What would you say are the key elements of your personal success?
RICHEBOURG: I did think about this. I’m sorry, stop for just one second because I did have three thoughts on that.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, go ahead.
RICHEBOURG: So you asked what are the key elements of my personal success. I would say that a strong support group among a few very close friends who have shared values of me is one reason, I would say their success, and another reason is the best relationship with my daughter that I could ever have asked for, a most rewarding relationship. And I would say the third thing is that at this time in my career because now I’m not in cable any more, I’m spending a tremendous amount of my time giving back, and I am very involved in a foundation that serves abused children in the state of Florida, and I’m an officer on their board and spend quite a bit of my time doing that work, and I think the giving back and it’s not for profit in any way is probably one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my whole career.
INTERVIEWER: What would you say is your biggest professional achievement?
RICHEBOURG: My greatest professional achievement I suppose would have to be the start up and running of a successful business, being an entrepreneur in that fashion and what I really as I look back on it since it’s almost five years ago now, we had an eight year great ride that was very successful for all the employees, but what I loved the most about it was the management side of it and the team building, the way that we all set our strategies together and the company was a small, lean company and that was I would say my biggest success.
INTERVIEWER: Can I ask you about your management style? It’s not on the sheet, but have you thought about your management style at all and whether it’s changed over the years?.
RICHEBOURG: I can answer the management style thing if you want. Well, in terms of my management style, I think the members of my staff in the company that I own would say that I tried very hard to have them be part of all of the strategic direction that we chose to take, and then I tried to get out of the way as they found new and better ways to get the job done. And in that sense, they really did feel empowered and they were sharing in all the rewards that we gained as a company.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have any contemporaries you viewed as role models?
RICHEBOURG: I did have role models is the question, and there were a few men who were mentors over the years with me. There were definitely women who in terms of peer level after I owned my own business, Ann Carlsen is somebody who continues to be a role model who I admire. And then of course there are people whose careers I have admired greatly from more of a distance, women like Gerry Laybourne who I’m fascinated with what she’s been able to accomplish and I’ve had some encounters with her, but I certainly couldn’t call her a mentor but I would call her a role model for many of us in the industry.
INTERVIEWER: I know you’re out of the industry now, but would you have any advice for young people who think they may want to embark on a career in cable and telecommunications?
RICHEBOURG: In terms of advice for young people coming into the industry, I would say that it’s a really good idea to seek out people that you are drawn to who’ve been in your company long enough to help you learn the ropes. You could call that reading the culture, reading the tea leaves of the power structure in your company, whatever you want to call it but if you focus on that, it’s a street smart type of approach to your work, but it really is essential and every company is going to be different so I would just say that that’s very important. Line up, link yourself up with someone if you can who’s going to give you advice and steer you along the way. And without that and with the fast pace in this industry, I think it’s pretty hard. It may be a peer, it may not be someone who’s been there forever, but don’t try to do it alone and in fact, you’ll probably get trampled in the process if you do.
INTERVIEWER: Now I’d like to ask you some questions about women in the industry. While you were in the industry, did you have a sense that parity was achieved between men and women or that it was a possibility of being achieved?
RICHEBOURG: I think there was a time early on that I thought parity was achievable. Those thoughts were kind of dashed as time went on, and later I realized that as an example, I was made a vice president in early eighties in one company, and then stayed at that level moving forward but when I was made a vice president, I didn’t negotiate to get stock options in my compensation package and frankly, I didn’t know of any peers, women, who had that as part of their package. And now as I look back and talk with men and women, I find the disparities there are just unbelievable, not just what has been published in the study that WIC so carefully put out and researched, but just talk with your peers. And that you can say that, well, women should know better and should have asked for the options and had better negotiating skills and that’s probably true, but I think there’s something to be said for the fact that in the early days, we were not being treated the same on an equal playing field. And I’m not in the industry now, but perhaps the women still feel that very same way and as I was saying to you a little bit ago, I think that this is an area that I hope because Women in Cable Foundation has identified this area and actually done quantitative research that more companies will take note of the study’s findings and actually we might see some change.
INTERVIEWER: There’s a lot of talk in early nineties about a glass ceiling. Do you think there was a glass ceiling preventing women from being successful?
RICHEBOURG: Yes, I do think that there is a glass ceiling.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Is there anything that you’d like to add that I haven’t mentioned yet?
RICHEBOURG: Let me just think for a second. You want to stop for one minute?
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember how Women in Cable was initially received by the industry?
RICHEBOURG: Oh, yes. I would say that Women in Cable was originally received with skepticism from different circles, men on one hand in one way and women in the other. The men I found, I would find people saying, careful getting involved in that association because if they ever take an advocacy role in the form of male bashing of any kind, you could lose your job. That’s how strongly some men would say that you should beware. And then there were women who would kind of dismiss it as a coffee clutch and say, we don’t need that, in fact, you should never really need a women’s organization. If you’re going to make it, you should make it on your own two feet in a man’s world, that kind of thing. So I found that the whole debate kept turning around for years really, eight years, maybe more, and I think that it really was when the association decided very clearly on its mission and its vision, and that to generate products that would help companies to solve problems and that would have bottom line results. When they did that, the respect came very naturally, and has skyrocketed I think that the level of respect that the association has gained in the industry is really remarkable.
And you asked if there was any other thing I wanted to mention, I did just want to say that I have made some of the best, most long term friends of my life through this industry, and through in particular my involvement in this association. And I need to give thanks for that and as I look back on my career, and I know I will continue to know where it came from and appreciate where it came from because the time in the industry has been, you know, it’s almost magical. The growth, time and the role that Women in Cable has played in it has been tremendous.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Well, thank you. I covered most of the questions on my sheet. I heard a lot of talk from Gail about there were debates over the name of Women in Cable.
RICHEBOURG: Oh, God, always, yes. It shouldn’t even be in the title.