YUTKIN: Hello. I’m Gerry Yutkin and we are videotaping this under a grant from The Hauser Foundation Oral History Project a part of The Cable Center in Denver, Colorado. Our guest today is Ruth Warren. Ruth is an old friend of mine, a long time friend of mine, who had been most recently Vice-President of Operations for Jones Intercable, which is now, I guess, no longer in existence.
WARREN: That’s right.
YUTKIN: And that took place about a year ago that it was sold to Comcast. I should also say that we’re recording this in March of 2000. Welcome and thank you for taking the time to visit with us.
WARREN: Thank you Gerry.
YUTKIN: Let me ask you one question before we get into your history and background.
YUTKIN: I would say that you are probably one of the most accomplished people in the industry. But then I’d like to ask you, would you prefer that I would say that you are probably one of the most accomplished women in the cable industry or…? I know you’ve been very active in women’s roles in the cable industry for a long time. Would you prefer one or the other? One of the most accomplished individuals who happens to be a woman, or one of the most accomplished women?
WARREN: I thought you were going to ask me if I was one of the most accomplished violin players in the industry because I used to play the violin, although I haven’t played it for years and accomplishment was never associated with my violin playing.
YUTKIN: Maybe you should continue with that.
WARREN: Yes, perhaps. In the industry I was recognized for my overall leadership and I think that that would be basically what I would like to be thought of as is an accomplished individual versus an accomplished woman because I think there’s too much delineation between women and men and women’s leadership skills and men’s leadership skills and I think leadership is leadership and I would like to be known as an accomplished individual within the cable industry.
YUTKIN: Well, I certainly think that that’s true.
WARREN: Well, thank you. Thank you.
YUTKIN: You’ve been in the industry since about 1980.
WARREN: Yes. Exactly.
YUTKIN: Was that a second career that you started at that point? What had you been doing before?
WARREN: Oh, Gerry, you’re making me go back so far.
YUTKIN: Well, just give us a general.
WARREN: I had graduated with a BA in 1971 from the University of Kansas and sort of had no inclination to really work very hard when I got out. I didn’t know what it was that I was going to do from a work standpoint, which I think was pretty common in the early ’70’s.
YUTKIN: It was in those days. It was right after Vietnam and the ’60’s.
WARREN: Exactly and career for women wasn’t a big issue. My parents tried to instill in me a great work ethic but when it came to careers my father would talk to me about either becoming a nurse or a teacher or perhaps going to business school and business school was just an anathema to me. It was all the guys with flat tops and everybody else had long hair during the Vietnam War, so when I got out what I decided that I would do is just sort of experience life, which I did for almost 7 years. I lived in Denver, I lived in Boston, I lived in Aspen, I took a trip around the world and in that trip I became ill with hepatitis so I came back and I was 27 or 28 and decided I needed to start thinking about what I was doing with my life, at which point I scanned all of the different things that I was interested in and one of the things that I was interested in was going to business school and getting my master’s in business, which I ended up doing. I ended up going to the University of Michigan and getting an MBA. I graduated in 1980 and because I have family out here in Colorado, I returned to Colorado and started looking for a job.
YUTKIN: And the first job that you got…
WARREN: The first job that I got was with Jones Intercable and it was quite interesting because I had no concept of what cable TV was at that point. I don’t know if any of us really did in 1980. We were fighting, which was very interesting, we were fighting a dual new build.
WARREN: It wasn’t really an overbuild. Jones and United had both been granted licenses to operate in Jefferson County and so when I was hired we were in this battle to really gain the customers in Jefferson County against United. So we would go into trenches and United would go into trenches and we’d both be knocking on the doors. Well, I was hired to do marketing and I’d never done marketing before and I’d never done cable TV – I’d certainly never worked in cable TV – and so it was all very new to me. It was like – what is this product that I’m supposed to be selling and what is this role that I’m supposed to be fulfilling, which was quite interesting and exactly what I actually wanted.
YUTKIN: But in 1980 it was, I think about five years after the satellite went up, maybe two or three years after HBO, CNN had already started on a shaky position but there was more programming at that time.
WARREN: There was more programming at that time, Gerry, but we were building what was a state of the art cable system at that point in time, which was 36 channels and we thought we were just the cat’s meow because everybody else, I mean, the other small cable systems that we had had 12 to 18 channels and who would ever want 36 channels of cable programming? Is there even enough programming to fill those 36 channels of cable programming? But it was an interesting time because – especially from a marketing perspective – you could do no wrong. You’d go out and knock on a door, which I did, which I found wasn’t my forte – door to door sales.
YUTKIN: Really? You started really from the ground up, literally.
WARREN: Well, I was trying to learn what it was that I was supposed to be doing in marketing this product, so I went out and knocked on doors and people would say, “Sure, I’ve been waiting for cable television.” It wasn’t like, let me tell you about cable television, they already knew. There was a lot of beginning hype around cable television and we called them the truck chasers, which probably other people have spoken about, but they just chased the truck down the street and said, “I’d like to sign up for cable TV.” So it was an interesting time from a marketing perspective and it was an interesting time from a cable perspective because we were so new and such a hot product with no competition.
YUTKIN: So you really came in at a very good time. Off-air Jefferson County certainly could get the Denver channels but satellite and microwave was offering much more at that time.
WARREN: Right, right.
YUTKIN: So you started in the system and did you start as a sales person or as a marketing manager?
WARREN: I started as a marketing manager.
YUTKIN: With an MBA.
WARREN: Well, exactly, but you know I was earning probably about half of what my fellow MBAs were earning because the industry also wasn’t very sophisticated when it came to compensation or even the people that they were hiring. I started as a marketing manager. Glenn Jones, at that point in time, was very involved in the cable system because United Cable, Gene Schneider, had a ton more money than Glenn did and both Glenn and Gene had received these licenses to operate in Arapahoe County, I believe it was, and Glenn had gone into Arapahoe County and Gene had come in and basically bought him out, said, “I’ll give you a franchise for Broomfield, I’ll give you a franchise for Brighton, and I will buy your equipment but I’m going to either beat you at this game or you’re going to be bought out.” So Glenn said, “That’s okay, I’ve got a license to operate in Jefferson County and I’ll just go next door to Jefferson County as Gene is occupied over here in Arapahoe County.” So Glenn went over into Jefferson County…
YUTKIN: And left Arapahoe County.
WARREN: And sold his share, basically turned his license back in to Arapahoe County. So Gene was the single operator in Arapahoe County.
YUTKIN: I didn’t know that.
WARREN: Yeah. So Glenn moves over into Jefferson County, I think feeling that it was okay to give up Arapahoe County because then Gene would be occupied there and Glenn would have Jefferson County and the market is big enough for the two of us to have these single franchises. Well, Gene also had a license to operate in Jefferson County and started to come into Jefferson County and use the same tactics. So it truly was – I mean, here I am, I don’t know cable television, I have no experience in cable TV, I’m the marketing manager and Glenn would come into the system and it was sort of like the general, who’s sort of like General Patton, coming in and marshalling his troops because he was bound and determined that he was not going to have happen to him in Jefferson County what had happened to him in Arapahoe County and that we were going to beat United at this competition. So it was very fascinating. It was a really fascinating time.
YUTKIN: When you first joined the company, how many subscribers, do you remember how many subscribers you had?
WARREN: In the company as a whole?
YUTKIN: In the system that you were in.
WARREN: Well, it was a new build, so…
YUTKIN: So it was fresh.
WARREN: Right, it was fresh.
YUTKIN: And in the company, how many?
WARREN: I think we had 60,000 at that point. It was very tiny.
YUTKIN: And that was primarily in Colorado?
WARREN: You know, we had some cable systems in Illinois and a cable system in…
YUTKIN: Out in Illinois?
WARREN: Yes, and Sedalia, Missouri, but Glenn had…
WARREN: Yes, I think there were a couple in Alabama, exactly.
YUTKIN: But nothing bigger than…
WARREN: I think our biggest one was out in Illinois. I think we had 12,000 customers and to us, at that point in time, that seemed just huge.
YUTKIN: I’m sure. You said you got your MBA and I got into the business right around that time too, also with an MBA. It seemed to me that in those days, ’79, ’80, ’81, there was all of the sudden a push to bring degrees in, those kinds of degrees. Did you find that to be an attractive thing in terms of your fellow workers or even the other cable operators? What did it mean at that time?
WARREN: That’s an interesting question and I feel that for me, really the reason I had gotten my MBA, had gone back to school at 27 or 28, was because I wanted to sort of kick start my career and having bounced around a bunch…
WARREN: Yes, it was a very eclectic background, my work experience. So what I did was I really used the MBA as a vehicle to gain me entry to talk to people about a job and so when I came into Jones Intercable I really felt, and I’ve even said this on panels and in front of people, especially women, that if you don’t feel as if you have the credentials to compete for a position then it is really important to get the credentials so that you can be taken credibly in your seeking a career move or in seeking a job. So when I got into Jones I don’t think that there were a whole bunch of us that had MBAs. It had gained me the ability to talk to Glenn and to talk to the people who were hiring at that point and then it had gained me the position but there weren’t a lot of people in Jones Intercable who had an MBA and the thing that I find fascinating, and actually the thing that I’ve told a lot of stories about, is that they taught us at business school of these amazing techniques, correlation analysis and statistical analysis and organizational development, and none of that existed! You were in the cable industry and the cable industry was this wild and wooly industry where there were lots of mom & pop operations and a lot of people who’d gotten into it who were just attracted by the movement of the industry. You didn’t have either educational credentials or experience credentials.
YUTKIN: When I got into it I think the most analysis we got into was justifying an extension or a new build.
WARREN: That’s exactly right – the capital.
YUTKIN: The payback analysis and revenue minus expenses and how long would it take to pay it off the capital investment.
WARREN: Right, right, exactly. I tell this story about one of the systems that we had in Sulphur, Louisiana and we had fired one of the managers down there and I was traveling with our engineer, Mike Gormally. We were going down there and Mike had come back with information saying basically this person needs to be fired and so we were traveling to Sulphur and as we got down there we met our regional manager and the regional manager who was a man by the name of Doyle Graves said, “Mike, I just want to tell you, this manager is so angry at you that he has threatened that if he sees you he’s going to kill you.” Mike said, “I understand what you’re saying and yes it makes me nervous and I don’t think I have anything to worry about.” In fact, he was an old Vietnam vet and he was a pretty tough guy. I pulled him aside afterwards and said, “Why don’t you have anything to worry about?” And he basically explained to me that he thought that he was much tougher than the manager who was threatening to kill him and at that moment in time, I thought, you know, they never taught us this at the University of Michigan at MBA. And the second thing I thought was my mother would be shocked that I was in an industry where people were being threatened, you know. But it was, it was that sort of grassroots, just rough and tumble.
YUTKIN: Down and dirty.
WARREN: Rough and tumble.
YUTKIN: How long did it take you to tell your mother that story?
WARREN: You know, I think I told it to her about 10 years later in 1990 when it became a little more sophisticated and sedate and I had too.
YUTKIN: Yes, yes. How long were you in Jefferson County?
WARREN: I was there about six months and in this exchange of Glenn’s license in Arapahoe County he had received the franchise for Broomfield.
YUTKIN: The city of Broomfield?
WARREN: The city of Broomfield and we needed to build the cable system up there because what was happening in Broomfield was there was a cable operator by the name of Art Hanks, who had come in to apply for a second franchise in the city of Broomfield and the city said we had to take it to general election. So what we were trying to do was try to get some plant built and show good faith that we were actually going to build the cable system in Broomfield and so I was sent up to Broomfield to do many things, one of which was really to manage the inception of this cable system and the second thing was to run this campaign in which we were campaigning against Art Hanks receiving a second franchise, which we ended up winning. It was a strange vote, you had to vote yes if you didn’t want the second franchise and so it was a convoluted franchising vote but we ended up winning it and being the single cable operator up there.
YUTKIN: You know, that’s interesting because the early ’80’s, I think, were a time of major franchising efforts and both of the experiences that you had have kind of touched on, well not exactly, but competition, overbuilds. Maybe not so much overbuild, but a competitive…
WARREN: A competitive environment, right.
YUTKIN: …environment and that really did not become much of a reality until, well I remember our first overbuild was in Louisiana.
WARREN: That’s right.
YUTKIN: In Hammond, Louisiana, in 1985, ’86, but now it’s very common.
WARREN: I know, Gerry. I mean, I think those early experiences that I had were very unusual.
WARREN: Right, exactly. And sort of fascinating for me because I came into the industry feeling as if there was competition, which I gradually understood that there wasn’t competition, but the first two situations I worked in there was competition.
YUTKIN: And titles didn’t really mean very much because everybody did everything in those days, especially in new builds, but when did you kind of segue officially from marketing into operations.
WARREN: Operations? After Broomfield, after I had spent probably about 8 months in Broomfield the corporation felt as if we didn’t need a general manager, that we would run it out of our Jefferson County office and so they brought me into the corporate office as Director of Marketing Services, I believe is what it was. So I went from marketing to operations and back to marketing and I spent probably about a year and a half to two years in marketing at which point…
YUTKIN: Was that more corporate or…?
WARREN: It was corporate marketing. And it was actually a fascinating experience because I was on staff in a field in which marketing was not either highly thought of by our field, probably not highly though of within the cable industry at that point, and it secondarily was a staff position where you always had to be selling your programs in versus to the…
YUTKIN: To the line people.
WARREN: Right, to the line people, which was actually a very good experience to me, but after about a year and a half or two years, I made a decision that I didn’t want to be in marketing any longer for a variety of reasons and I approached our chief operating officer, whose name is Tom Engle, was Tom Engle at that point.
YUTKIN: His name is still Tom Engle.
WARREN: His name is still Tom Engle, right. Exactly. (Laughter) And he said, “What is it that you’re looking to do?” And I said, “Well, here are the different options but I’m just not going to stay in marketing.” And he, at that point, said, “I’ve been thinking about a position that would be reporting to our regional vice presidents, which would be an assistant operations manager, and that you would be directly reporting to the regional VP and your responsibility wouldn’t have direct line responsibility. In other words, people wouldn’t be directly reporting to you, but in essence, you would get experience so at the end of this experience we could either put you into a VP position, put you into a large system, or put you into some position managing a group of systems, and it was exactly what I was looking for. Although I thought at that point, from a career standpoint, I would return to marketing because I really loved marketing but I went into it and just fell in love with the line operations. I fell in love with making decisions is what I fell in love with. I liked not having to sell all of my concepts and ideas into the line operations. I liked having bottom line responsibility.
YUTKIN: I understand that and agree with you for me and for you. So that took you, what? Up into the mid-’80s?
WARREN: Probably ‘8-, no it was pretty fast track. That was probably about ’84, or was it ’83? It was ’83, ’84, and then I had been in that position for a year and a half and I was promoted to a regional vice president of a new region, which was in Florida. So it was my only move, my only physical career move.
YUTKIN: So you lived in Florida?
WARREN: Right. With Jones Intercable I was moved down to Florida and it was sort of interesting because we were trying to set up this office and I couldn’t get our purchasing agent, Margaret Bryant, to return my calls and what I found out subsequently was that we were going through a reorganization and Glenn Jones had basically said, “I want our regional VPs here in Denver. I want the brain trust here in Denver. I don’t want you out there where I don’t know what you’re doing.” So six months after I moved to Florida I was brought back to Denver as a divisional vice president, at that point, over Wisconsin and I stayed in that position for probably two years.
YUTKIN: Back in…?
YUTKIN: In Denver, with line responsibility, full-fledged?
YUTKIN: So that probably took you to about ’86, ’87, something like that.
YUTKIN: Before we progress, who were your heroes at that time in terms of providing inspiration or helping you in terms of defining where you wanted to go as you were learning the business? In the industry or not in the industry. Is that a tough…?
WARREN: It is a tough question and one of the reasons is, I’m asked often who my mentors were, people who really, as you said, inspired me, and I would have to say for the most part the people who I worked for were very good bosses for me, but not particularly good bosses. One man I worked for was the type of individual who would just throw me into a situation, say go appear in front of the franchise because…
YUTKIN: Fix it.
WARREN: Yeah, fix it, because we need a five-year extension for bank loans and you go do it. And for my type of personality it was probably the best situation I could have because I was constantly being dropped into these challenging situations that were terribly uncomfortable for me and he would give me advice but he wouldn’t really ever coach me on how to do it. It was like, you go figure it out. I mean, I had to fire people that he had hired and I had to step in and run cable systems that were reporting to him. Just not particularly the best coach or mentor but from an inspiring standpoint, inspiring me to always learn, one, and inspiring me always to figure out how to manage this challenge that he had dropped in my lap.
YUTKIN: Sometimes we do things because of some people and sometimes we do things in spite of people.
WARREN: Absolutely. Right.
YUTKIN: So on the one hand you couldn’t have had somebody better, but on the other hand maybe the direction wasn’t that good.
YUTKIN: How many women were in the industry? How many women did you know roughly that were in the industry, other than secretaries, of any responsibility?
WARREN: I don’t have a specific number but the place where I found the most women, women who ultimately because pretty good friends of mine, were women who were in the national counts of the programming service or women who were in the regional offices of the programming services. Within the MSOs there were very few. Sharan Wilson was there with Daniels and Associates at that point and she was probably one of the few that was in a pure line operating positions, who I would consider a peer, but most of the women that I really enjoyed and most of the women who I could find within the industry truly were within the programming services. That’s where women were being recruited and it’s where women were being promoted.
YUTKIN: Any idea why?
WARREN: Well, we’ve had probably a lot of discussion about this over the years and I think one of the reasons is that there are some stereotypical roles for women and one of the stereotypical roles for women, or two, is marketing and the second one is sales and in the programming corporations really that was the career path. You entered in sales and marketing and affiliate relations and that was a pretty common career track for women to enter in to. In MSOs you entered in the same – marketing, customer service, but you just didn’t find many women in line operations or in any of the technical operations side or in finance or any of the career paths that would take you up to the upper levels or even the mid levels of the MSO.
YUTKIN: You were president of Women in Cable.
YUTKIN: Women in Cable was founded in…?
WARREN: In 1980.
YUTKIN: In 1980?
YUTKIN: When would you say that it started really taking off in terms of more women in the industry?
WARREN: Well, I think it took off in 1980 when Gail Sermersheim started it.
YUTKIN: How many members did they have in ’80?
WARREN: I don’t know. Probably very few. She talks about the story about the first meeting nationally and there were 15 women in it, so yes, it was very, very slim, but it has grown as has the presence of women within the cable industry over the years and a lot of it, I think, has been due to the work that Women in Cable and Telecommunications has done, but also the recognition within corporations that women do have something to add to the executive offices and also that there have been women who have been in the pipeline, so that the more women that you have in the pipeline the better the chances there are to have women at the top.
YUTKIN: Ruth, let me ask you about the industry. It’s had a lot of very, very important pioneers, rugged individualists who go back into the ’50s and ’60s, you told us that amusing story about the South where your engineer was worried about getting shot at, it seems, in my perception, it seems that the industry has been unusually receptive to women and minorities, especially for a start up industry. Do you agree with that?
WARREN: I do, Gerry. I think as an industry we could have done better. I wish that we would have done better, but it was such a young industry when I got into it. I entered into the industry when I was 30 years old and the whole group of people that I became friends with were in their late ’20s and early ’30s and I think that that group of people and I think also the people at the top brought a consciousness to the industry that said, “Here we are. A new medium. New telecommunications, new industry, and let’s create a model that is different than the old staid industries and let’s have a model that puts emphasis on diversity.” So the barriers to entry from a hiring standpoint weren’t as you would find, I think, in the steel industry or some of the older industries…
YUTKIN: The more entrenched industries.
WARREN: Right, the more entrenched industries, and then secondarily, those people who are coming into the industry, the women and the African Americans and the Asians and the people of all cultural mix and also a lot of women were bringing with them a sensibility that said, okay, now that we’re here, what is it that we can do to even break down further the barriers that keep us from, in women’s case, keep us from going into the executive suites. And so within the corporations and also within the associations, Women in Cable and Telecommunications, and NAMIC, the National Association of Minorities in Cable, you had associations that supported corporations really doing tremendous work on the issue of diversity and then you had the corporations themselves that had people pushing them against the issues of diversity. So I believe, I don’t know of many industries that have the strong associations like we do in the cable industry, women’s associations and cultural diversity associations, and I also think that I don’t know of many industries that have had the consciousness against the whole issue of diversity as the cable industry has, too.
YUTKIN: Not long ago I read a book by Alan Dershowitz and he was talking about prejudice in the medical profession and particularly anti-Semitism in the medical profession up really past World War II, even into the ’50s and ’60s and Jewish quotas and so on and as a result of that there were, what in many of the big cities, what were termed as Jewish hospitals where they were primarily funded by the Jewish community or they primarily had Jewish doctors and that was sorted as kind of a reactive thing because Jewish doctors could not get on staff of certain institutions if they had quotas or if they just excluded them and what he said in the book was, “We don’t need any Jewish hospitals anymore because that’s a thing of the past because Jewish doctors can get on staff of all these other places.” Is the cable industry there yet?
YUTKIN: In terms of minorities and women. Have we achieved…?
YUTKIN: I know there’s always more that can be done.
WARREN: That’s right. No.
YUTKIN: Where are we on the pendulum in the year 2000?
WARREN: In the year 2000, no, we haven’t achieved parity. I mean, it’s very clear. There are still salary inequities, there’s a lack of salary parities within the industry. When you take a look at the top positions, the top executive positions, and you look for either African Americans or Asians or women, no there is not a parity there and my fear is, and I think that this is the fear of all women within the industry and perhaps even those within NAMIC, is that as we go through these consolidations we lose the consciousness and we lose the entrepreneurs like Glenn Jones or like Leo Hindery or the people who have been incredibly supportive of the efforts to really break through the glass ceilings and we lose those people to these large corporations that don’t have the same consciousness or who don’t have those really as goals or objectives of their corporations. And I think that what is happening in the consolidation, from an MSO side, at least, is that you’re losing a lot of women from corporate cable America who are going off, either to start their own businesses or to do things that they’ve wanted to do differently or to go with small start up corporations where they can be at the helm, but they’re finding the opportunities in the industry right now not to be as many as there were perhaps ten years ago, five or ten years ago, which is unfortunate.
YUTKIN: That’s also probably true for everyone though, now with consolidation, wouldn’t you say?
WARREN: Yes, I would say that, but I also think that when you’re looking at a population that doesn’t have equal representation to begin with, then as that population diminishes because of consolidations than you even have less women who are in the pipeline to make it to the top of AT&T or Comcast or the large cable corporations.
YUTKIN: As the consolidation occurs, we hear an awful lot about cultural clashes. Do you think that this priority in terms of these cultural clashes will not be as high as some of the other things that they’re trying to do in terms of integrating two different types of cultures? Do you think that’s going to be like a sacrificial lamb?
WARREN: I don’t think consciously, but I think whichever corporation is the acquirer, that culture reigns supreme, so if that culture is not real conscious of promoting women or minorities, people of color, then that culture – it doesn’t make any difference if a Jones or a TCI or a Media One or whoever are really attuned to doing that, they’ll be folded into that culture and lose their entity, lose the culture that they’ve tried to breed. That’s no different than any other industry. That happens in industries all across the U.S., that the consolidator is the one whose culture continues.
YUTKIN: I hope you’re overly pessimistic.
WARREN: (Laughter) Well, I don’t say that I’m pessimistic because I think there’s been a lot of change in the 20 years that I’ve been in the cable industry. I think there are women in positions of power and you have Gerry Laybourne starting her starting her own programming service.
YUTKIN: Which is?
YUTKIN: With Oprah?
WARREN: With Oprah Winfrey. And you have Katie McEnroe in charge of American Movie Classics and you have Kathy Dorr in charge of a programming service and you’ve got Mindy Hermann and you’ve got Jan Peters in Media One. So you’ve got all of these women who have acceded to the top spots, so I’m not overly pessimistic, I just think that American industry has to be vigilant about putting people of color and women into positions of influence and positions of responsibility and having enough women and people of color in the pipeline so that as they progress and as these corporations age they also have the population that can age into the executive suites. You just have to have a consciousness about it because otherwise all these women and people of color are going to go to these small start ups where they can get good equity and good options and run them, and maybe that’s the new opportunity for people, which it obviously is because there are lots of people leaving the cable industry to do that.
YUTKIN: That’s certainly true, but we’ve seen some of the giants of industry fall on their face over the years, so it’s not working like it was 20, 30, 40 years ago.
YUTKIN: IBM’s changed, AT&T, all of them, so you never know.
WARREN: You don’t.
YUTKIN: They may be right in going to start ups right now.
WARREN: And there’s a part of me that says that they are right because if you have a woman in charge, as there are women in charge of many of these small Internet companies, if those become the AT&T in 20 or 30 years.
YUTKIN: Sure, the AOLs.
WARREN: Yes, exactly.
YUTKIN: Ruth, why don’t we go back the chronology of your career in the industry. In 1987, Glenn Jones tapped you for a new position.
WARREN: He did. That was sort of an interesting story, too. We’d had a group of industrial psychologists in our corporation doing a lot of organizational development work and one of the things I told them was I ultimately, at some point in my career, wanted to be president of a corporation.
WARREN: Something – whatever. And sure enough about three months later after they’d been consulting with us, Glenn called me into his office and as he was wont to do he said, “Ruth, I’ve made you president of Jones Lightwave.” (Laughter)
YUTKIN: What’s that?
WARREN: And I said, “Well, so what’s Jones Lightwave?” Because this was not a corporation that existed before that moment, and he said, “Well, it’s a corporation in which we’re going to buy up MMDS licenses.” I can’t even think of what it stands for.
WARREN: Yeah, something like that. It was through the air cable TV.
YUTKIN: Minisite. Minisite microwave.
WARREM Right, right. And he said, “I want you to run it.” And I said, “Okay, well could you tell me how we’re going to finance this.” And he said, “Well, that’s all for you to figure out.” And so I left this office and I thought, I wonder if I really have a choice, which you always wondered with Glenn once he was promoting you whether or not you had a choice to say no. It happened several times in my career and I thought, well, this will be an interesting experience and so I said, “Okay, this sounds great.” And about 8 months later was back in the cable operations because of several things. The FCC was so tightly controlling of those MMDS licenses that it was just a bureaucratic nightmare to try to get them to approve transfer of license or approval of the licenses and at the same time, some licenses that we’d actually purchased we were being sued over and so we couldn’t figure out exactly what we wanted to do. We didn’t know how this fit into our corporate strategy. So I got a call from him one day and he said, “We’ve decided to get out of the MMDS business and what I’d like you to do is take over the cable systems that were in another part of the corporation called Jones Spacelink. Run those cable systems and run a group of cable systems within Jones Intercable.”
YUTKIN: And that was a separate company?
WARREN: Yes. Jones Spacelink was a separate company. It had originally been designed to be in the SMATV business, the dish business, and then had evolved into limited partnerships, which Jones Intercable also used, but limited partnerships against very small cable systems, so it was made up of cable systems in places like Grants and Socorro, New Mexico…
WARREN: Winnemucca, Nevada. Places that no one ever wanted to visit.
YUTKIN: Did you ever go to Winnemucca?
WARREN: I did go to Winnemucca. The only place I didn’t go to was we had a little cable system outside of Houston, and I can’t even think of the name of it.
WARREN: Rosenberg, right! Rosenberg, Texas and that was the only one that I never went to. But they were cable systems that our former VP or President of Jones Spacelink had bought sort of betting on… because they were all associated with mining or oil and gas or something. Well, right after we bought them, they all went like this. So, we had cable systems up in Wyoming in which the people were living in the trailers…
WARREN: Lusk, and someplace else, where they were living in trailers and we were actually losing homes passed. So I did that and then they decided that I would move over into the Jones Intercable and so I was running both cable systems in Jones Spacelink and also cable systems in Jones Intercable at that point, late ’80s.
YUTKIN: And then you got the big promotion.
WARREN: Right, right.
YUTKIN: In 1990?
WARREN: Yes, right.
WARREN: I was tapped to be Group Vice-President of Operations for Jones Intercable, which was a position in which I had line responsibility for all of our cable systems.
YUTKIN: Back to the line. Well, but these other positions were…
WARREN: Well, they had… exactly.
YUTKIN: The Lightwave probably wasn’t…
WARREN: Lightwave was lots of nothing except headaches. (Laughter)
YUTKIN: I’m sure you did the best you could.
WARREN: Yes, exactly.
YUTKIN: I think it may be a tribute to you that they got out of the business…
WARREN: Before they lost a ton of money.
YUTKIN: No, after exhausting your time and efforts, in other words, if you couldn’t do it nobody else could.
WARREN: Well, I don’t know about that, Gerry, but…
YUTKIN: Well, I would suggest that there’s certainly an element of truth, I believe.
WARREN: Well, thank you.
YUTKIN: Then you got really back into a major position in a major MSO. How was that?
WARREN: It was wonderful! I mean, to be at the helm of all of our cable systems of all of the cable operations and to be in a position in which I could really exercise my strategic skills and be creative, because I think part of our culture, and it came from Glenn, was always to put a great deal of emphasis on creativity. So that was fun. It was difficult, and I think this is true probably of men and women, but it was, I think, a little more true of women, but I went from being a peer to actually being the boss of my peers and that was difficult and there were some messes to clean up and I had to clean up the messes and yet over the years, I think what happened was that I could, along with the other key executives, really transition the corporation into being a corporation that had a great deal of emphasis on our associates and on the customers and on the shareholders and also on our bottom line. And of course, I am very prejudiced, but I think the corporation did an exceptional job in all of those arenas. We constantly put the emphasis on moving forward, never stagnating, never remaining the same and so we really pushed ourselves to be doing better than, hopefully, our peers, but measuring ourselves sometimes against ourselves too. How much better can we be doing?
YUTKIN: I think as Glenn, in some ways, was a maverick in the industry in terms of the way he started and progressed and went after the partnerships and the way in which the whole company grew, there was, at least when I was with Jones Intercable, there was never any sense of anything but we’ll do our best because our best is, there is no better. We were always looking for improvement but we never really tried to mold into cable as a preconceived idea other than just excellence.
WARREN: You know, we didn’t Gerry, and I think part of the reason I loved the corporation so much was because of the quirkiness of Glenn and his emphasis on doing things differently than what everybody else did in the cable industry. Our managers’ conferences, as you know, every year we would have a mangers conference where we’d pull in the people from the field and had people from corporate – well, they got to the point where we had an in-house band called Cerebral Hemorrhage, you know, “music you’ll love a clot”, people would get up and stage dive and Glenn would do stage dives and Jim O’Brien, our President, would do stage dives. I mean, it was…
YUTKIN: Did you ever do a stage dive?
WARREN: I did do a stage dive.
YUTKIN: You did?
WARREN: Yeah, yeah. And it was fun!
YUTKIN: Did they catch you?
WARREN: Yes, they did and it was really quite cute because I was standing up and it was all these young guys that worked in the corporate office and I could hear them mumbling sort of to each other, “Watch out, watch out! It’s Ruth, we can’t drop Ruth!”
YUTKIN: We’ve got to catch her!
WARREN: Yeah, we’ve got to catch her.
WARREN: Exactly, exactly. You know, so I think it was a corporation that was hard to put your finger on and people outside the corporation, and I heard this quite a bit, either from cable systems that we were purchasing – and I actually had one woman say to me one time when we were purchasing her cable system, “You know, what is it like to work for Glenn because I’ve heard that he’s extraordinarily eccentric and sort of quirky.” And I said, “He is, and it makes for a wonderful, wonderful corporation.” Because it just had a sense of family but it had a sense of competitiveness and it had a sense of excellence and it had a sense of quality. His motto was “In what we do we have no equal”. And you begin to believe that by working there.
YUTKIN: Do you think that there’s a downside to spending your entire cable career in one company, in one organization? There’s been a lot of movement back and forth with most people in the industry, many people in the industry, at the senior level. By not working with another company, say, do you think that you may have missed something, or if you did, was it important? There are ups and downs to each situation. What are your thoughts on that?
WARREN: I don’t have an ounce of regret for spending 20 years at Jones Intercable. I’m the type of individual who needs, as I was referring to the former boss that I had who was inspiring in his bosshood, I need a challenge and the corporation was wonderful to me in that it always gave me new challenges and new things to do and I think, as a woman, there was a point in time in which I felt as if I had probably gone, this was before I was Group VP of Operations, I had probably gone as far as I could. I think at that point, had I not have been promoted into an executive position, I probably would have left the corporation because I had a strong career desire to be somewhere at the helm of a corporation, but the corporation recognized that and also recognized what I would bring to that role and put me in it. So, no. And I haven’t searched for a job since I got out of it so I’m not sure whether or not somebody else on the outside would see that as a detriment or not.
YUTKIN: Had you not been there, what do you think you might have gone to look for at that time? In cable?
WARREN: Oh, yes. Because I love – I mean, I don’t know how much I would love it now, but for the 18 or 20 years that I’ve spent in cable TV, I loved it. It was wonderful. I loved the people there, I loved the dynamic vibrancy of the industry, the …
YUTKIN: It was a good time, too.
WARREN: Yeah, it was a great time. It was a wonderful time and if I were to have looked for another position because I hadn’t achieved my career goals at Jones Intercable, I’m sure it would have been within cable.
YUTKIN: Can you think of the toughest decision that you’ve had to make or an area that were tough decisions and give me an example on how did you deal with it?
WARREN: The toughest decisions have always been the people decisions. When I’ve had to fire someone and I’ve had to do it frequently throughout my career because I really believe that I had a responsibility to Jones Intercable to have the best people in the positions that I possibly could have and when somebody wasn’t performing, they knew they weren’t performing because I gave them a ton of feedback and tried to create an environment and a situation where they could rise to the need of the position. Not my need, but the need of the position. The toughest one was the first boss that I had at Jones Intercable eventually reported to me and I had to fire him.
YUTKIN: It must have been very difficult.
WARREN: Well, it was difficult, it was very difficult and he ended up being terribly, terribly angry at me and I think he probably still is angry at me, which is his problem, not mine, but it was a very difficult situation and yet I was very clear with him and it was very clear to me that he was not performing well. In fact, he was a difficult boss for the people who reported to him, so he needed to be gone. That was probably the toughest situation that I had to handle.
YUTKIN: Terminating people is very difficult because you wonder, did I take every opportunity to try to solve a problem like that?
YUTKIN: We just turned into a new millennium, or will in 2001.
YUTKIN: What’s your prognosis for the industry, given the fact that, I think, at this point it may be even difficult to define…
WARREN: What the industry is.
YUTKIN: …what the industry is and what it will be in five or ten years. Give us a couple of thoughts. Do you think convergence is going to succeed and everybody’s going to live happily ever after?
WARREN: No, I don’t. I think it’s difficult, Gerry, right now to sort of blow away the clouds or the smoke that is enveloping us with all of the hype of the Internet and all of the technological advancements that are going on and the consolidation. It just seems to me that telecommunications, cable TV, the medium of cable TV, the medium of the Internet, will be with us for the rest of our lives, certainly. What the infrastructure around that looks like, I don’t know. People believe in bundling. AT&T and other corporations have said, “This is the way that we’re going to do it.” I think it’s very difficult to execute against a bundled vision. I think it’s a good vision, I mean, I think a one-stop shopping for the consumer is a good vision, I think it’s just extraordinarily difficult to do the executional part of that vision. I think also the Internet and video streaming, if the Internet can be delivering what is currently delivered through cable TV, then I think that that is challenging to the industry. I think that the plethora of overbuilders is fascinating to me. I mean, here in Denver we have US West, who is receiving franchises, we have Wide Open West, who is receiving franchises, we have AT&T, who is the incumbent. I mean, where does it end and what does that marketplace look like? Are there going to be two to three telecommunications providers within a single market or is there even a new technology that’s going to come along that’s going to usurp the hardwire. I think the hardwire will always be there, but is it going to be one hardwire or two hardwires or three hardwire plus…
YUTKIN: Or four or five.
WARREN: Or four or five, plus direct TV, which gets into Internet access. So, it’s a very confusing time. I mean, I don’t think I have… I don’t know, I suppose maybe there might be somebody out there who has some sort of discernment as to what the future looks like, but I can’t see it. I have a hard time seeing past all this Internet hype too.
YUTKIN: When I got into the business in 1979, it was four or five years after the satellite went up, HBO was launched in a big way and my first position was in Appleton, Wisconsin. We’d just launched HBO and the theater owners, the cinema owners in town, were getting together to put pressure on the city council to do something about pay TV.
WARREN: Cable TV.
YUTKIN: Particularly pay TV because they thought it was going to drive them out of business.
WARREN: Yes, exactly.
YUTKIN: I didn’t, well, I was new to the business and I wasn’t sure where to go, but what we found was a sense that the pie expanded whereas the local owners had all of the pie and were worried about giving up that pie. In fact, the pie got bigger and they’re probably making more money now than they ever would have. The networks are another example. We keep reading and I remember, certainly you remember…
YUTKIN: …the days that, oh, isn’t it great, we’re gaining on the networks and they don’t have 95%, they’re down to 80% and now they’re down to 70% and I don’t know what they’re at now, 56%, I think, the last time I saw, and yet they’re making money.
WARREN: Well, and one of the things that I’ve been doing since I haven’t been working at Jones is that if somebody will come to me with a business plan and people come to me because there are lots of people out there, lots of women out there, which is really fascinating, who are starting their own businesses, so they’ll come to me for feedback on the business. This young woman came to me for feedback on this e-commerce independent record business, independent artist business, basically, music artist business. And I mean, it’s just a fascinating business and I sit there and think, she’s taking on the recording business, which is mainstream, and saying, there are all these independent recording artists and let’s just expand it. That says that if I spend x number of dollars a year on CDs she’s going to expand that by making accessible all these independent artists. To me, where does it end? It seems so tied into our booming economy right now. If the economy goes like this, then does that pie shrink dramatically and what is it that people truly want? At some point the economy has got to go like this, I would assume. Something is going to happen sometime perhaps within our lifetime to put the stops on this raging economy.
YUTKIN: If not stops, holding back a little bit or leveling off.
WARREN: Exactly. So all of this telecommunications, all the telecommunications providers which are providing either competition in highly competitive environments or are providing discretionary income sorts of products, I think that you’ve got to have a plan B for some inevitability of people not having the money to spend.
YUTKIN: So you’re cautiously optimistic.
WARREN: Well, yeah. I mean, I’m still… I think the telecommunications industry is the best one to be in, bar none. I loved the cable industry when it was the cable industry and I think right now, if I were entering at age 30 I would very definitely be targeting some part of this industry because it’s exciting.
YUTKIN: Well, these days, some would say that 30’s over the hill.
WARREN: Yeah, that’s true.
YUTKIN: Remember when we used to say, don’t trust anybody over 30. You’ve got to be a millionaire by the time you’re 30 now.
WARREN: I know. That’s right.
YUTKIN: In the last couple of minutes, what have you been doing in the last year and personally I know you’re active in all kinds of things. You’ve had many activities before and now you’re able to give more time to your causes. Tell us, what are your favorites these days?
WARREN: Well, I have two local nonprofits that I’m on the board of. One of them is called the Five Points Media Center, whose mission is really to provide education, training and advancement opportunities to economically disadvantaged kids, teenagers. The second one is Transformations, which is providing technical education to women who are looking to go, it’s sort of a welfare to work group of people. And they’re wonderful, wonderful organizations. That doesn’t keep me entirely busy, so I’ve been doing a lot of traveling and sort of just having a good time. I like having the time; I feel like it’s quite a blessing to have the time and the finances to be able to take advantage of the time.
YUTKIN: I know you’re a pretty disciplined individual, but do you mind having to be in the office at a particular time, or do you enjoy sleeping late a little bit?
WARREN: You know, it’s pretty interesting because I don’t. I find myself…
YUTKIN: Probably at first.
WARREN: Well, not even then. I find myself getting up at 7:00, which is probably much later than these guys who are filming just got up. But I am fairly disciplined and it doesn’t mean that I miss going into the office, but I feel as if I want to get an early start on the day and make sure that it’s full and that I feel good at the end of it.
YUTKIN: Thank you very much.
WARREN: You’re quite welcome. Thank you.
YUTKIN: I really have enjoyed it. We have been talking to Ruth Warren, who is the recently retired Group Vice-President of Jones Intercable. This is part of the oral history project funded by The Hauser Foundation as a part of The Cable Television Center and Museum in Denver, Colorado, whom we thank for the funding. Ruth, thank you very much for coming in.
WARREN: Thank you, Gerry. I’ve enjoyed it very much.
YUTKIN: I appreciate it.