Emma L. Bowen Foundation president and CEO Phylis Eagle-Oldson will retire this month, after a 15-year stint as head of the agency that fosters diversity in the media-employment ranks through its internship program. Eagle-Oldson spoke with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about the 25-yearold organization’s growth and success during her tenure, as well as the industry’s overall diversity efforts. An edited transcript follows.
MCN: What are your immediate thoughts as you contemplate leaving Emma Bowen after nearly two decades as its CEO?
Phylis Eagle-Oldson: It’s a real double-edged sword: On the one hand, this has to be the best job I’ve ever had. If you would have asked me before I came to Emma Bowen, I would have said my 19 years at [the National Cable & Telecommunications Association] was the best job, and now I realize that was prep for Emma Bowen. I can’t imagine ending my professional career on a better note than to be involved in a program that has made such a difference in the lives of students — we have over 700 graduates and about 250 [college students] currently in the pipeline.
On the other hand, I’m very much looking forward to my life in retirement. We have eight grandchildren, so I’m looking forward to spending time with family, traveling and enjoying life.
MCN: How has Emma Bowen evolved during your tenure as CEO?
PEO: It had a great start — [Former Capital Cities/ABC president] Dan Burke, [NBCUniversal CEO] Steve Burke’s dad, donated the first $50,000 to launch the program to honor Emma Bowen for putting together the then-Black Citizens for Fair Media … That was 1989, and the first 10 years they did an amazing job of building a program.
After that, what I believe it needed when I came in was structure, and that was one of the things that I could bring to the table based on my experience with NCTA being its vice president of finance and administration. We built in policies and procedures and built a relationship with the cable industry that hadn’t existed before.
Then, thanks to the Walter Kaitz Foundation making us one of their designees for the fundraising that they do, we were able to build a summer conference, a mentoring program and, more recently, a new media and technology track. I think [new CEO] Dr. Rahsaan Harris will bring a whole new view to the foundation and move it into new directions and take it to a new level.
MCN: Could you categorize cable’s diversity efforts in the past 20 years?
PEO: Clearly a focus on diversity has become much more of a priority within every company, and I think it’s more than just a nice thing to do but clearly an important part of the business plan. Are we at a point where we can say that we’ve done a great job and don’t have much more to do? No.
I think the industry still needs to continue to make proactive efforts toward diversity. My guess is that there’s a fairly good pipeline of talent coming in. The next key step is to make sure that talent gets moved up in the ranks. There’s work that still needs to be done, and that commitment needs to continue.
MCN: Where do you see the industry in the next five years and what role will Emma Bowen play?
PEO: Unfortunately I don’t have a crystal ball to tell you where the next big thing will be, but I can tell you that it’s within the industry to re-invent itself to find whatever the next level is. In part it’s about all the mobile devices and how people watch content, so the industry has to follow that. With regard to the foundation, we have to continue to grow into other areas. The whole digital and social media area – the Googles and the Yahoos and Facebooks and Linkedin – are also areas where the industry and Emma Bowen need to continue to grow in.
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