Steve White has had a storied career in the cable industry, including 11 years as president of Comcast’s West Division, where he managed 30,000 employees and drove annual revenue past $18 billion. But he cites helping his single mother clean hotel rooms as a young boy as the turning point in his life and business philosophy. White said his mom’s fierce determination to provide for her family (he has three brothers) drove him to excel in a business career that has spanned three decades. Currently president, special counsel to Comcast Cable CEO Dave Watson, White has written a book about that philosophy — Uncompromising — that was released on February 22. He spoke recently with B+C Multichannel News senior content producer — finance Mike Farrell. An edited transcript follows.
Your book, Uncompromising: How an Unwavering Commitment to Your Why Leads to an Impactful Life and a Lasting Legacy, came out February 22. What made you decide to write it? I’m inspired by the quote often attributed to Mark Twain. ‘The two most important days in your life are the day you’re born, and the second is when you find out why.’ Through hardship, I was able to answer the second question. My why is to create a table of prosperity for as many people as possible. Sharing my life’s lessons — my successes and failures — is in service of my purpose.
You obviously had a great role model in your mother, but have there been other mentors that helped you realize your potential in other parts of your career? Certainly, my wife Barbita should be included. I have more mentors than most people, but my ‘trick’ is that most of these folks don’t know that they’re mentoring me. I identify leaders that I admire from afar and I study them. If I get an opportunity to meet them, I ask them all the questions time will allow. I believe you can learn from everyone, so don’t limit yourself.
What’s your all-time favorite TV show? The Cosby Show
What shows are you binge-watching? Yellowstone
Books on your nightstand? The Bible
Bucket-list travel destination? South of France
Memorable recent meal? What was it and where did you have it? Spago’s Four Seasons in Maui. December 18, 2021. My son Stevie and I share the same birthday. My wife, Stevie, and I celebrated our birthday over Christmas vacation. My meal was a beautiful New York strip steak that I shared with my son who loves steak.
You also say that learning from mistakes is as important as learning from successes. What do you consider to be your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it? My biggest mistake was putting myself ahead of my team, and I was fired as a result early in my career. My why became clearer to me while I reflected on that life event. If I wanted to enjoy any level of success, I had to become a servant leader. When I’m faced with fear around a decision or direction, I always ask the question, ‘If I knew I couldn’t fail, what would I do?’ The decision becomes very clear, and I go with it.
One of the things under your purview as president, special counsel to the CEO at Comcast Cable is diversity, equality and inclusion. What do you think the industry’s top priorities should be on that front? We have a terrific team leading our efforts. From my perspective, the priorities around DE&I are as follows:
Engaged leadership: Commit to these initiatives from the highest levels of the organization.
Investment and empowerment: Provide a ‘hand up’ rather than a ‘hand out.’
Accountability: There should be rewards and consequences for creating an inclusive culture with increased representation of people of color.
Impatience: As an example, this industry created broadband. When we commit, there is nothing that will stop us.
Vulnerability: Recognize and admit we can do better. Ask for help and start with your employees.
The pandemic has caused a lot of people, particularly younger people, to re-evaluate their career priorities. Is this good or bad? It is good. And one correction: it isn’t just younger people. All leaders are re-evaluating their career priorities. The winning companies will have a clear purpose for existing. I go back to the earlier quote: ‘The two most important days in a company’s life is the day it is born, and the second is when they know why.’ If your company can answer that second question with clarity, then your chances of surviving for years to come increase dramatically. ■
Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.
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