Interview Date: 1999
Collection: WICT 20th Anniversary Collection Project
INTERVIEWER: If you could give us your name.
TYKESON: Amy Tykeson. T-Y-K-E-S-O-N. First name, A-M-Y. And I’m the president of Bend Cable Communications LLC.
INTERVIEWER: Just for initial question, how did you begin–how did you initially become involved in the cable industry?
TYKESON: How did I originally get involved in the cable industry? Well, I remember this pretty vividly. I was working in the wood products industry back in 1980, and I was on a job with my dad who was in the cable business at that time. And he said, “You know, why don’t you just look at cable. Why don’t you just come with me to the NCTA?” So I did, and I met some people with HBO, and ShowTime, and so forth, and fell in love with the people at HBO and started working there two weeks later, so that’s how I became involved.
INTERVIEWER: When you first became involved in the industry, was there one particular aspect that you found unusually striking about the industry?
TYKESON: Yes. Probably the most striking thing about the industry that I noticed right off the bat was just how vibrant it was, and the opportunity for young people, the opportunity to get involved and try new things. There was so much energy, and really terrific people. It was a lot of fun.
INTERVIEWER: A lot of people have said that it was easier to enter the cable industry during its early days because there were no definite rules. Would you agree with this assessment?
TYKESON: I don’t really know if it was easier to get involved in it back then versus now. It’s so different now, so it’s really hard for me to compare. I think because it was such a new business, the hunger for people and young talent was huge. But you look at it now, and it’s so diverse, and there are so many different ways for people to get involved whether it’s through the Internet, or programming, or the technology side. So I can’t really answer that.
INTERVIEWER: In what specific ways do you think the industry has changed in the last 20 or 30 years?
TYKESON: From my perspective, the industry has gone through a couple of real cycles of just explosive growth and opportunities, and I think the early ’80s was probably from the time the satellites really got going. I joined in 80 so I can speak from that point forward. It was just burgeoning. And then things seemed to kind of slow down. There wasn’t as much happening in our business until some of the new technological changes; the Cable Act, which brought in competition, really started to crystallize. And I think we’re getting close to the peak of that now when you just look at the opportunity for broadband and cable’s future. It’s just truly exciting.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have any mentors when you entered the industry?
TYKESON: I’d have to say that my dad has been a big mentor for me. I’ve worked with a lot of very successful women in the cable business, and I’ve learned a great deal from each one of them.
INTERVIEWER: Any specific lessons that your father taught you about how to operate in this business?
TYKESON: I think my dad, in terms of what he helped me learn, was always challenging me. I’d have an idea, or I thought about making a change or what have you, and he’d always ask some of the tough questions. The questions that, of course, a mentor is supposed to ask, so that you round out your thinking.
INTERVIEWER: Would you have any advice to young people entering the industry today? If you could mentor them, what advice would you give them?
TYKESON: Oh, I think it’s a terrific industry. I think the opportunity is there for people that want to commit to the excitement, and it’s hard work. But I think that if you work hard, and you’re smart about your choices on your career path, that you can do really well.
INTERVIEWER: What were some of the key elements that helped you succeed in the industry? What were the elements of your personal success?
TYKESON: My personal success – I think having a sense of humor, and treating people well. It may not make the cash register ring, but it does contribute to that.
INTERVIEWER: Was there a moment that was most satisfying for you professionally, in your professional life? Can you think of one key moment?
TYKESON: I’d have to say professionally that when I was president of Women in Cable that that was probably one of the best years I had in cable simply because of the people I was working with at Women in Cable, and what was happening with my career at HBO. And for me it was really a wonderful time in the ’87, ’88 period.
INTERVIEWER: Can you talk about how you initially became involved in Women in Cable?
TYKESON: Yes. I started out in Women in Cable in 1980 here in Chicago, and helped formed the chapter here, and was the second president of this chapter. And then when I moved to New York to work for Home Box Office back there, became involved with the New York chapter. And then got involved on the national board.
INTERVIEWER: Since you’re part of the pioneering generation with WICT, were there any obstacles that you had to confront initially, or was WICT generally accepted by the industry, or was it sort of difficult to get the message across? As one of the pioneers of WICT, were there any struggles that you faced initially in getting the message of WICT across?
TYKESON: I think–yes. There were struggles getting started with Women in Cable. There’s no question in terms of just being taken seriously, and what would our mission be, and who we would serve. There were other organizations, how would we define ourselves to be different from those so that we would have a more targeted strategic approach to growth, and could serve the needs of our members. And I think coming up with some of these programs, like the management conference, and the link that we had with the University of Denver early on, and then moving beyond that to some of the other programs that the organization has embraced, I think have truly made a difference in terms of empowering women to reach their full potential.
INTERVIEWER: Both Gail and Lucille, when I interviewed them, said that there’s a lot of discussion around the name of Women in Cable. Have you heard of any those before?
TYKESON: Oh, yes. And the name, Women in Cable, it’s kind of, like, why hide from what you are, and that was really our target audience. But, yes, there were some very heated discussions. But when you move away from that name, you really move away from the essence of what the organization really was, and I’m glad to see that the name is still intact after all those debates.
INTERVIEWER: Do you see Women in Cable evolving at all in the next few years? Do you see a time when Women in Cable won’t be necessary?
TYKESON: In a way I don’t, because I think the issues that women face are just different than men. They are. And the balancing of your life, and your career, and your professional life, and so forth, it’s just more complicated. I’m not saying that men don’t have those same issues, but they’re somewhat different. And I think the thing about Women in Cable is that the organization acknowledges that there are some differences between men and women that are good differences. And so why not take advantage of that, and help women utilize those skills and make those skills even more powerful in the workplace? It takes all kinds of people to succeed, men and women.
INTERVIEWER: Could you talk a little bit about balance? A lot of young people are concerned about balance, their professional and personal life. Do you have any advice on achieving balance?
TYKESON: Balance, I think, is a struggle. I think for every woman I know in the workforce that has a family, it is one of the biggest difficulties. In terms of advice, I think, you really have to seek out your own opportunity that will meet your needs. And for me I found that. I have with my career and the way I’ve worked it out with support people and so forth, it’s a pretty good system where I can keep focused on what’s really important and get down to it. The business is important, but your kids and your family are really the top thing. And so trying to find that mix where you have a terrifically interesting job or career, and you can balance that with the fulfillment that comes from family, I think, is really the trick.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think the industry has been receptive to WICT’s message when it comes to balance? Have you seen any significant change since 1980 in attitudes towards balance?
TYKESON: I think with some of the larger companies there’s been more of a movement towards recognizing that women, perhaps, have a different life path, and are trying to accommodate that. But it’s a struggle. It’s really a struggle, and I think for a company making financial decisions, that they really have to weigh out those issues, and recognize that diversity is really important, and that you have to make the situation work for people. And I’m glad to see that some companies are moving more in that direction.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have a memory or some moment at WICT that was particularly satisfying to you that you want to share, or maybe something during your presidency?
TYKESON: Oh, boy, there are a lot of memories. In terms of really satisfying moments for me when I was involved with Women in Cable, two things really come to mind in terms of kind of coalescing. One in particular was in Chicago when the chapter came up with the idea of video competition for young people where we went out to the schools. We helped students come up with video clips that they then submitted, and those were judged and ran on the cable systems. And we had a big awards ceremony, and that was still going on many years after I left. I was very proud of the board that did that. The other thing, I guess, would be in that ’87, ’88 period when we were really kind of struggling with growth issues and what to do. And the board of Women in Cable was very committed to finding some solutions for Women in Cable that could move us to the next level of growth and professionalism, and where we needed to go and that was truly exciting.
INTERVIEWER: Was there a moment where you felt WICT was accepted by the industry?
TYKESON: I don’t know if there was a moment where I felt that WICT was accepted by the industry. I think the industry has always accepted WICT. I do. I think that for me, personally, at HBO it was important. It was important for me to be involved in Women in Cable. I know that the company appreciated my role, so I can’t really speak to that. But I do think a number of the measures, if you will, that Women in Cable has done in terms of the Betsy Magness leadership program, and the management conference, and so forth where the industry can see demonstrated some real tangible benefits for the young women that they’re sending to these programs. I think that is really what’s helped make Women in Cable become a true player.
INTERVIEWER: How do you see WICT? Are the issues that WICT addressed in the ’80s the same issues that WICT addresses in the ’90s? Has its philosophy seemed to shift to you at all?
TYKESON: I think Women in Cable has just evolved from that period when it began to now in a real healthy and smart way. The issues in the ’80s, I think were very different because it was a new business, and people were kind of struggling with, well, what should Women in Cable really be, for one, and then how does my career fit into the cable industry, etc. So I think there was a lot of the foundation, if you will, being laid for the organization that now can really be executed like the pay study that was done, and some of these other things that are terrific contributions to the cable industry.
INTERVIEWER: Gail and Lucille said one of the most rewarding things about WICT was the friendships. I don’t know if you want to speak to the friendships that you’ve made through WICT.
TYKESON: I think for me the friendships in Women in Cable and in this business are just so terrific. And I think back on my early days with Home Box Office, and Women in Cable was a big part of that. And many of the women I see now, and it’s wonderful. And those relationships are really deep and lasting, and I think that’s really been the dividend, if you will, of Women in Cable for me.
INTERVIEWER: Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you would like to speak to in terms of WICT or the industry?
TYKESON: I just think this is a great business, and I’m really proud to be part of it. And I appreciate all the wonderful opportunities that I’ve had, and all the people that I’ve worked with that have made it a fun place to be and very invigorating.
INTERVIEWER: How do you think that Women in Cable influenced your professional growth?
TYKESON: I think Women in Cable provided me with a forum to practice some leadership and refine some leadership skills. When you have to run a board meeting, for example. When you’re just fresh out of college, and you’re involved with Women in Cable, you learn how to do it. And a lot of those skills in terms of professional development, you can learn it sort of in a safe environment whereas you might not really have the opportunity to do that until it’s crunch time and you have to perform, say, on your job in that capacity without really having much background.