Priscilla Walker


Interview Date: Tuesday June 22, 1999
Collection: WICT 20th Anniversary Collection Project

WALKER: My name is Priscilla Walker. That’s P-R-I-S-C-I-L-L-A. Walker. W-A-L-K-E-R. I’m the president of Walker Innovations, Inc., which is a full-service marketing and communications firm.

INTERVIEWER: Could you tell me how you initially became involved in the cable business?

WALKER: Well, actually it was through an employment agency. My husband had gotten a job through the employment agency the year before and for whatever reason, because they specialized in accounting, they got this job from ATC, American Television and Communications, which is now part of Time-Warner Cable. And so they called me up and I went for an interview and they hired me. At the time, there were four people in the corporate marketing department of ATC. They had three or four hundred thousand customers. There was the Vice President of Marketing, Trygve Myhren, and the Director of Marketing, Tom Crowley, and myself and a secretary. So, it was very small. This was 1975. It was actually before Home Box Office went on the air. It was an interesting time to be in the cable business.

INTERVIEWER: What was the most striking aspect of the cable industry that you noticed when your career began?

WALKER: Seems to me, the most interesting thing that I find about cable is how enthusiastic people are towards the product. Not only the people who work in the industry, but customers. I’ve been in focus groups where the customers will pull out their channel line-up and refer to it as “my cable”, and that I think is very rare in a lot of industries that people would be so enthusiastic.

INTERVIEWER: Have you seen the marketing strategies change significantly since you began your career?

WALKER: I think the marketing strategies have changed quite a lot. And there’s still a lot of room for fundamental marketing. A lot of my work is implementation because a good idea that’s poorly executed is not going to work very well. I think that the level of complexity is so much more with marketing. Originally, it was heavy reliance on direct sales and now we have lots of other ways to reach customers. So I think it’s more sophisticated marketing now than it was.

INTERVIEWER: A lot of successful women have said that when they entered the cable industry, it was easier for them because there were no definite rules. Would you agree with this assessment?

WALKER: Well, yes. I think it was easier to get into the industry in a lot of ways. I was probably one of the last non-Harvard MBAs that ATC hired at that time. So I consider myself extremely fortunate to have entered the business when I did because after that, they really did start hiring Harvard MBAs. And I think that in that environment, I would never have been considered for a job. I had a degree in mass communications and I had worked for three or four years with an advertising agency before I came to cable. But the hiring kind of changed. When Home Box Office went on the satellite, then there was sort of this programming explosion. And then there was a franchising explosion. And that brought a lot of people into the industry. But I think when I came, it was, you know, it was kind of unusual.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think that being a woman in the cable industry has been a detriment or an enhancement to your career?

WALKER: That’s interesting. When I started at ATC, and really for the first three or four years, there were not very many women in management positions. In fact, when we merged with Time, Inc. in about 1978 or 1979, I remember one of the first meetings with Dick Munro, who was the Group Video Vice President at Time and there were 40 people in the room. They were looking around for women that were in management and they actually brought in a woman who worked for me because at the time, June Travis was the only woman vice-president. I became the only woman director shortly after that. And so, in that room, I’m sure Dick Munro knew the five women in the meeting. But he probably did not know the names of all of the men. So, from that standpoint, I think, you know, that’s one point where I think there was an advantage. I think that what it really comes down to is what an individual can do. There are a lot of women who have been very successful and a lot of men who have been very successful. And women who have not. So, I don’t know. One of the disappointments to me is that 20 years later, we’re still talking about the glass ceiling and that there aren’t enough women in the industry at high levels. I think 20 years ago when we started Women in Cable we didn’t think we’d still be talking about those issues now. Clearly, there are more women now. I mean, I don’t think there are any companies where there’s only one woman vice-president and one woman director. But we have not achieved the levels that I think that I would have expected 20 years ago.

INTERVIEWER: What do you think is preventing women from achieving those levels of success? Is it societal? Is it attitudinal?

WALKER: I think part of the barriers for women are, of course, comfort levels. I mean, everybody has to be comfortable with the people that they hire around them. And if you look at companies, typically, the men CEOs hire men and surround themselves with men. And women who are in a management position will hire the people that they are comfortable with and a lot of times that tends to be women. When I was at ATC and I had a department of 17 people, most of them were women. In fact, we sort of had to consciously look for men because, otherwise, we were going to be the “girls in communications” and our work at that time was franchise proposals and would not have been taken as seriously as if we had men in the department.

INTERVIEWER: Did you have any mentors during these early years?

WALKER: I think mentorship is an interesting study. I’m a little familiar with what Ann Carlson has done for NAMIC and it’s a wonderful program. I would say I’ve never had a formal mentorship program. I think I’ve had a lot of sponsors and I would encourage people to find a lot of sponsors and probably also mentors. The whole concept that there’s proactive mentorship where you actually ask someone to be a mentor is truly revolutionary from my thinking. I came into the industry assuming their bosses would mentor them and I think that is not always the case. I don’t think anybody gets to be successful without having a lot of sponsors, a lot of people who say good things for them at the right time or help them through situations. So, I suppose mentorship is a very broad term that could apply to a lot of things.

INTERVIEWER: Well, would you have any advice for young women or young men entering the industry today?

WALKER: Sure. My advice for people entering the industry would be to be proactive in their careers, to seek out mentors and to seek environments where they can succeed. I would also encourage them to have realistic expectations. I think it’s easy to look at the really successful stories in our business and in America and think that it comes easier than it really does. If you ask people who are successful, they have worked very hard for a long number of years and they’ve probably made the most of the opportunities that were available to them. I think today I see people come in and they expect they can work for four or five years and be the CEO and those opportunities are very rare. So, I would think that more realistic expectations would be important.

INTERVIEWER: What about your success? I mean, what components do you think of your personality or your work ethic has contributed to your success?

WALKER: Well, let’s see. I think that part of my success is from my perseverance or tenacity. I don’t give up easily. And maybe some creativity. And I hope a sense of humor.

INTERVIEWER: I know you’ve had your business now for ten years?

WALKER: Yes. I’ve been in business for ten years.

INTERVIEWER: What has been the most rewarding aspects of having your business? And what are the more challenging aspects of it?

WALKER: Well, the reward I think is helping my clients succeed. Helping them get more customers, help them get more business. And that’s very rewarding. I think one of the reasons that I chose this route was for the flexibility. At the time I started my business, we had a son who was young and aging parents who needed attention that I couldn’t give if I had stayed in the corporate world. The stability of a constant paycheck is not one of the things that you find when you own your own business but I found that I didn’t need that to succeed. And clearly, I’m much happier than I was in the corporate setting. I can’t imagine going back to a corporate company again. I really like what I do. I love my clients. I love the work that I do. So, I’m thrilled that I’ve been in business ten years, and want to continue.

INTERVIEWER: Do you have a management philosophy?

WALKER: I guess my management philosophy would be to treat people well. Both the people that work for you as well as your clients, bosses. I think empowerment is one of the things that Women in Cable helped–what is the word? I mean, I believe in empowering people, the people around you, because I think there will be better decisions that are made if the people are empowered. So I use empowerment. Although we didn’t know that word until Women in Cable came along as a way of getting the work done.

INTERVIEWER: Are you satisfied with the progress that women have made in the cable industry?

WALKER: Oh, I think, as I’ve said before, the progress that women have made has–in the industry–has not been as much as I would have thought. 20 years ago, I thought that women would be further, that there would be more women in higher places than there are now. So, I guess, really, I’m not. Women in Cable and Telecommunications has a “sunset” clause that 20 years ago we thought probably would have been invoked by now and that there would be no need for the organization because women would have achieved their personal and professional goals and really that’s not the case.

INTERVIEWER: Well, do you think there’s a glass ceiling that’s preventing women from achieving their success?

WALKER: I really don’t know how to define a glass ceiling. I think there are clearly forces at work that are keeping women from being as successful in this industry and maybe it’s not just this industry. It could be in America in general. If you look at other industries, the fastest growing entrepreneurs are women who are leaving corporate Fortune 500 companies and starting their own businesses or taking advantage of entrepreneurial businesses. I think that’s really a loss for America. I think it’s certainly for the cable industry, as well.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think female entrepreneurship can serve as sort of an equalizer between men and women in the work world?

WALKER: I think that women entrepreneurs can be as successful as men. I mean, we may be talking about small businesses versus large businesses but still the big companies are dominated by men in the management positions and these smaller entrepreneurial companies are largely women owned. But the entrepreneurial companies still have to do business with the bigger companies. So it may even it out. But still there is–they have to work together.

INTERVIEWER: Could you tell me how you initially became involved in Women in Cable and Telecommunications?

WALKER: Well, I worked for ATC and June Travis actually got me involved in Women in Cable. She was on the original charter, a founding board member. In fact, she was the treasurer, I think, the founding treasurer and had a lot to do with the success of the organization and getting started. A lot of times, I think, she worked behind the scenes to get things done. But certainly, she was involved at the national level. And I know she came to my office one day and asked if I would like to be involved in starting the Rocky Mountain Chapter. So, I was on the steering committee. I also helped her nationally with the logo, the original logo that was designed for Women in Cable. I had my graphic designer do that. And I think I helped write the mission statement. The first one. I remember the phrase “Expanding the Arenas for Women.” And so, I was on the steering committee for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Women in Cable. It was then Women in Cable. I was the program committee chairman and I loved that. That was so fun. One of the things that I remember enjoying was working with committees, getting five or six people together and trying to find out some interesting programs. Because I figured if I was going be involved in the organization, that I would want to be on the program committee to make sure that the programs were interesting. So, I did that for, actually, a couple of years. And that was really fun. I enjoyed that. And then I was the Chapter President of the Rocky Mountain Chapter for two years. And when we started the steering committee, I couldn’t imagine that there would be five women in Denver. I mean, I knew one woman in Denver outside of the people that worked at ATC. And I couldn’t imagine that there were five people that would join an organization by that name. And I think when I was the Chapter President, we had 300 members. It was the largest chapter for a while. It was very exciting to see the growth.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think Women in Cable and Telecommunications contributed to your growth as a professional?

WALKER: Oh, Women in Cable and Telecommunications definitely contributed to my growth. In fact, I wish it had come along earlier in my career because I had already worked, I don’t know, eight or nine years before I got into cable and truly the leadership opportunities and the networking were very instrumental to my success, I think, at ATC and now on my own for the last ten years. There is just an enormous need for the organization and networking. I know at ATC there were times when I would keep track of the things that Women in Cable enabled me to do. The money that we saved because I was able to call someone that I knew in the organization and get things done whereas my bosses would call and they wouldn’t know them and so they wouldn’t even return the calls. And the leadership opportunities. Being able to, first of all, work with the committee, the program committee, and then be the head of the Rocky Mountain Chapter. I used to say it was like running a business only as a nonprofit with volunteers. That it was even more challenging than when you had people that worked for you that you paid and had them to do the same work. And we had a wonderful time. It was a very exciting time in the industry with so many people coming in. One of the highlights I remember, we had Christie Hefner from Playboy come in and it was a huge–I think we had 300 people for dinner one night, which was an amazing turnout. So I was on the National Board of Women in Cable and Telecommunications for four years. Two years as the Regional Representative from Region Six, which at the time, had about a third of the membership. In fact, I remember that I asked that they re-portion so that one group wouldn’t be so disproportionately heavy. And I also chaired the management conference in 1985, which led to the cable specific case studies that they’ve been using ever since and the alliance with the University of Denver and Ron Rizzuto, who has been very instrumental in that. And that, then, led also to the educational program, which was truly wonderful. I enjoyed setting that up. And those are opportunities that would only have been available to me through Women in Cable and Telecommunications.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think the content of the programming at Women in Cable and Telecommunications has changed in the last 20 years?

WALKER: Oh, sure. From the management conference and then the cable education program, it was very education oriented for several years. I think they’ve gone away from that, which I think is too bad. I really hope that they go back. Because the number one reason in all the surveys that I’ve ever seen them do say that people join the organization for the educational opportunities. And the way that Women in Cable and Telecommunications present them is unique to the industry. There’s a sense of learning that surrounds all of it that is just not available anywhere else in the industry. And I hope that they would go back and actually strengthen that because I think that is a unique thing that helps the organization and the individual.

INTERVIEWER: Can you comment on how you think WICT specifically influences the industry at large?

WALKER: I think it’s impossible to underestimate the number of ways that Women in Cable and Telecommunications influences the industry. The studies that it does–initially it was the work force 2000 study–Cable force 2000 study, and subsequent surveys and salary studies and just raising the issue that it’s important that there be a diverse work force. That our customers are women as well as men and so the work force should be women as well as men. It’s an important thing that can get overlooked in the pace of trying to meet the bottom line every day. I think the opportunities for developing leadership are truly important. One of the things that I think has been most rewarding for me was last year’s acolyte winner, Diane Blackwood from Time-Warner in North Carolina. She credited the education program as part of the reason for her being able to move into operations. And as women, it is very hard to get into operations unless you have the track record. And through the case studies, she said that she’d already done the work that she would be assigned in her operations job. And so it was much easier for her and her boss had much more confidence in giving her that opportunity because she had the skills.

INTERVIEWER: How do you see WICT evolving as we move into the next century?

WALKER: You know, 20 years ago, I would have thought that maybe we would have accomplished our mission. Going forward, I think that the organization needs to be stronger. I would like it to return to a more educational focus because I think that gives us credibility in the industry that organizations just find hard to achieve. The leadership opportunities–what I love about Women in Cable and Telecommunications is that anybody can be president. That you don’t have to be the head of your company as other organizations require. That anyone can succeed in this organization. I think that is very important. I think working with other organizations in the industry to help achieve industry goals is an important part of Women in Cable and Telecommunications’ continued success.

INTERVIEWER: I just want to ask you a final question about The Cable Center. I know that you’re managing the web site for them. Is there a particular message that you’re hoping to convey through the web site throughout The Cable Center?

WALKER: Well, the web site of The Cable Center is to mirror what’s going on in The Center itself. So, it’s a wonderfully rich source of information about the industry. We have kind of three perspectives: to celebrate the past, the richness of the industry and its entrepreneurial spirit; the present, which is wonderful opportunity with all of the convergence; and then also to celebrate the future, as well, with the kinds of opportunities that will happen as the industry evolves and the product evolves. It’s a wonderful web site that is used by many students as well as people in the industry. We have 2,000 visitors a month. And I think ground breaking is next month for the center. It may be years before we get 2,000 visitors a month to the center to physically go through the building. So, the web site is a worldwide resource. Most recently, I’ve been getting international inquiries from people who want to conduct research in the center. We’ve got new things in the library, the equipment collection, the technology collection, as it’s called. So there’s a lot of wonderful things in the library and the web site mirrors that.

INTERVIEWER: You probably came with some questions in mind. Is there anything that I didn’t ask you about that you would like to speak to? Whether it be about WICT or the industry or the progress of women?

WALKER: No. I think you’ve covered it all.

INTERVIEWER: Going back to that one, about the perception of people coming into the industry. Knowing that you can’t become president after something like four years or so, that you really have to work hard. Do you think women have to work harder than men to achieve that?

WALKER: Historically, I think women have always worked harder than men to achieve the same, or near the same results. Yes, I don’t think there’s any getting around that. Even though it’s been 20 years, it seems like women still have to achieve more to get the credibility that their male counterparts have. A lot of times they come into a situation and there’s the comfort level or the rapport or something that is immediately there for them. Which is why I think Women in Cable and Telecommunications is such an important organization because it helps fill the gaps. There just aren’t the same kind of opportunities that women will get without working harder.

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