Interview Date: Monday June 21, 1999
Collection: WICT 20th Anniversary Collection Project
INTERVIEWER: And company and title.
WARREN: I’m the former Group Vice President of Operations for Jones Intercable.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Just as a warm-up, could you tell us how you initially became involved in the cable industry?
WARREN: Yes. I can. I had graduated from the University of Michigan and my whole family was living out here in Colorado. So, I came to Colorado and happened to walk into Jones Intercable at a point in time when it was about 60,000 customers. They were looking for a marketing manager to replace the CEO’s daughter, Cricket, Cricket Jones. And it was very sort of serendipitous because the woman who is sort of the chief bottle washer for the organization had grown up on a small town next to me in Kansas, a small town by the name of Olbe, Kansas, and we just sort of hit it off. And so she got me in to interview with Glenn Jones and the chief operating officer at that time, Bob Lewis. And I think that I sold them on the fact that I had maybe about seven or eight years of experience in retail, and had graduated with an MBA in marketing, and I was what they needed. So, there was no great thought process about getting into the cable industry. It was rather serendipitous, really.
INTERVIEWER: At the time your career in cable began, what did you find most striking about the industry?
WARREN: I began in 1980; I was starting off in marketing and I didn’t have a huge amount of experience in marketing. The product that we had created in cable television with ESPN and CNN and all the new products, was something that people were just craving even though they didn’t know that they craved it. As soon as we went out and knocked on doors or put a marketing piece out and started talking about Home Box Office or ESPN or CNN, people just flocked to our doors. It was as if you couldn’t do anything wrong, which I think is a unique attribute of the business. It sort of continues that way through Internet access now. But at that point in time, it was interesting because, as a marketer, it was almost as if anything I did worked.
INTERVIEWER: Did your marketing strategies change significantly over the course of the next ten or fifteen years?
WARREN: Oh, huge. You know, in the early years, it was as if, as I said, it was as if anything that you did worked. In the later years, competition came into being and so, we really had to think about who our customers were. And we as an organization were, in fact, the whole industry was beginning to get into predictive data base marketing, which was very sophisticated. And so the movement came because the industry itself had plateaued. And also because there was competition. And so, yes, the marketing strategies changed dramatically.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Well, some successful women in the industry have said it was easier to enter cable during its formative years because there were no definite rules. Would you agree with this assessment?
WARREN: It’s very difficult for me to talk about today because I think that when I look at the industry today, there are some women who are at very high levels, very successful women in the industry. When the industry was beginning, as you would have with any industry which was, as you used the word “formative”, or nascent, you have an industry which is just running to keep up with itself. And so as I was suggesting, you know, I walked through the door of Jones Intercable and received a job. Anybody who was walking through the door practically of any corporation with a background, not necessarily of telecommunications, but with a background in business or a background in sales or a background in marketing or engineering and receiving jobs. And I’m not quite sure the industry itself was reaching out into diverse populations and pulling them in. Although there became, probably in the mid-’80s, a stated objective to really continue to build on the diverse population that had been hired and push those people into the upper ranks. As of today, I mean, I don’t know. I think the industry continues to reach out towards women and continues to promote women, and give women recognition and visibility and also try to get them into the executive ranks. I think the difference is that you have an industry which has had a tremendous amount of consolidation. So you have fewer corporations, not as widespread, not as diverse in their nature. And so I think it makes it much more difficult to get to the top of AT&T than to get to the top of Jones Intercable. So, I’m not quite sure if it’s the nature of the industry going from birth to consolidation that has changed versus the intent of the industry.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Good. I was wondering, looking over your career, could you pinpoint what is your greatest professional achievement?
WARREN: Women in Cable, of course. I think my greatest achievement was the fact that I was put in as Group Vice President of Operations for a major MSO. When I was promoted into that position, which was eight or nine years ago, it was I think 1990 or 1991, when you looked around the industry, even though there were women in operations positions, there weren’t, or there were very few women at the top of running the line operations. And so, when our organization took that step and put me into that position, I think it was a great achievement both for me and also for our organization. The fact that they recognized a woman in line operations and put her in there. And I think it was a wonderful position. It was a position which, you know, you–I mean, it’s a powerful position. It’s a position in which you can make change and a position where you can get recognition within the industry to make change, too. So, I would say that was my greatest success, or greatest achievement.
INTERVIEWER: Do you see more women entering the systems side of the industry?
WARREN: Yes and no. I’m, you know, I think that one of the things that we struggled with within Jones Intercable, and also Women in Cable, is that it is pretty non-traditional to have women managing cable operations. And so, when women graduated with MBAs from the University of Michigan or from wherever, you know, you naturally think about where am I going to enter and I think a non-traditional route is running cable systems. The industry itself, I think, is recognizing that what they need are talented individuals in trying to develop career paths and success paths to get women into those positions. But I’m not quite sure that there’s been tremendous change over the years in getting women into cable operations and managing cable systems.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think there’s anything specifically that the industry can do to encourage more women to enter the operations side?
WARREN: I do. I think organizations, especially cable operations – organizations – need to have career paths for women and people of color to take this non-traditional route. And I think it is an organization taking a risk in creating a career path, in creating an education and development to take non-traditional people and put them into a traditional line operation. I think that there needs to be a consciousness about moving all people of diversity into the upper levels of the corporation because I think that has to be the overall objective. And the overall objective really has to be do you want an executive group that is representative of your customer base because it makes good sense and it’s profitable to do it that way. And so, organizations, if they approach diversity in a non-traditional function that way and say it’s going to be good for business if we do this, then yes, I think the industry and organizations can create it. You see the industry and you see corporations putting a modicum of interest against that. But I think it’s such a fast-moving industry that to take time off to do those developmental plans or to spend a lot of time on career pathing, you know, it becomes secondary. It becomes a lesser priority to just keeping up with the rush of products.
INTERVIEWER: What do you think are the key elements of your personal success?
WARREN: What are the key elements of my personal success? I would say I’m very competent. I have a great sense of humor. I’m a very good manager of people. I’m very equitable. I give good feedback to people, honest feedback to people. I think I create an atmosphere in which people are challenged to be creative, to show initiative, to do their best and I think I could hold my own in a corporate environment which was predominantly male and learned very early on, as a female, you know, how to be female and also how to be male. You know, how to be what I needed to be in that environment. So, I think my success is made up of really both managing peers, managing ops and I think I do an exceptional job of managing people.
INTERVIEWER: Could you describe your management style? Has it changed through the course of your career?
WARREN: Well, of course it’s changed because in my early years I wasn’t managing anybody. So, you know, I had to learn. And, you know, what is my management style? That’s a difficult question to answer. It would be easier if there were people here who knew me. But I’m pretty rigorous, very challenging, creative, lots of conversation, lots of dialog with the people who work for me, lots of feedback to the people who work for me, lots of, you know, sort of creating space around them and around myself so that they can be successful. And so that they can step off and, you know, take risks. So, I think my style is sort of made up of some good hard skills, some tough demanding skills and also some softer skills. You asked if my management style had changed. Well, in the last years that I was as Group Vice President for Jones Intercable, it became very important to me to speak from my heart when I was managing people. And I think I had always been afraid of doing but I think what I learned was that when I genuinely spoke from my heart, and maybe got emotional with people who worked for me and the people who worked with me that it really opened up a much more authentic dialog with those people. And also created, in me, the ability to take the risk to get to the final positive solution. Business solution. Not only an emotional solution, but a business solution. So I think that, you know, as I grew and matured, I learned much more how to be myself. I guess that’s what I’m saying.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have a philosophy of mentoring?
WARREN: I do have a philosophy of mentoring. I believe that anybody in executive positions or upper-middle management positions should give time back to people who are in the corporation in a mentoring fashion. And I think if you spoke to anybody who has worked with me, they would say I’ve been very good at that. The one thing that I have noticed, if I was giving advice to somebody, let’s say in a lower management position or a middle management position, is that I would say always approach the person that you want to approach from a mentoring standpoint. Because I know a lot of times people would say, I’d like to come in and talk to Ruth about my career, I’d like to go in and talk to her about my development, but she’s so busy, I don’t think that she’ll be able to carve some time out. And I would say that those people who are targeted as mentors always have the time to mentor others. So, my advice to younger people is always make the approach.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have any mentors that influenced your career?
WARREN: I had a lot of bad mentors. And I’m saying that with facetiousness. I think that they were actually good mentors in that I could look at them and the advice that they were giving me or the manner in which they managed. There were things that I could take a look at and access and say this is not what I want to be doing. And I actually think, and I have said this on a lot of panels, but I think taking a look at people who you can get close to who are bosses of yours and make decisions about what you want to pick and choose from them are probably just as important and just as valuable as having somebody who really coaches you well. I had a president, Jim O’Brien, who I wouldn’t say was a mentor, but certainly was somebody, and Glenn Jones, who took a risk in putting me into the position of Group Vice President of Operations. So, I had males within our corporation who believed in me deeply and were willing to take the risk to put a woman in a non-traditional role. But I wouldn’t say that they mentored me.
INTERVIEWER: Could you tell me about your involvement with WICT?
WARREN: It was 1980 in Denver and the organization, Women in Cable, had just begun. June Travis was out here working for ATC at that point in time and she was one of the women who was really in a leadership position in the formation of this new women’s association. And so we had a pretty strong chapter out here. As I was getting into the industry, there were really two things that people told me to join: Women in Cable and the Denver Cable Club, I think was the name of the second one. Well, one was a social club, which was the Denver Cable Club. And the other one was Women in Cable. So I started getting involved in Women in Cable. I think I was the Programming Chair at one point in ’82 or ’83 and, you know, we were doing the typical programs for that time, which were “Dress for Success” and, you know, sort of putting emphasis on, you know, how you look, versus the content of what it is that you’re doing. But what I found was it was an organization in which I could meet people in the industry in Denver, make great friendships, network with people and I really enjoyed the association and really enjoyed the mission of the association. So, then at that point I left. I left Denver and sort of left the association for probably about four or five years. And came back to it in the late ’80s.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Well how do you see WICT as influencing the industry at large?
WARREN: I think that when people take a look at Women in Cable, you know, it’s sort of like a stealth plane. Because I think that they sit there and say, you know, why do we need a women’s organization? But you look at all the programs that we’ve put in place: focusing on women’s leadership, focusing on life balance or focusing on education of corporations or corporative executives as to how to retain and hold onto women and people of color, and the association in its mission has really worked at creating in an industry in which women are given every chance equally and never discriminated against. And I think that over the 20 years that it has been in existence, it’s moved from a “Dress for Success” organization to an organization that really has influence and power in the industry for making change. And is making change. Making definite changes in the industry. Even though sometimes the industry doesn’t recognize it.
INTERVIEWER: Did your tenure as president contribute to your professional growth?
WARREN: Oh, most definitely. I mean, in many different ways, I think, just from a leadership standpoint. It was at that point in time in which I had just become Group Vice President of Operations. And so here I was Group Vice-President of Operations and I think both sort of contributed to each. But one of the things that I feel very strongly about is nonprofit work. And anybody in any leadership position, any executive position within any corporation, giving back in a nonprofit fashion and being president of this wonderful organization taught me the trials and tribulations and also all the positiveness of being in a leadership position in a nonprofit, which I could then take that leadership learning and put into the for profit arena basically.