It takes good timing

Susan Eid, mass media and cable adviser to new FCC Chairman Michael Powell, credits her career success to good fortune. Blind luck might be an even more apt description. Of course, putting herself through law school at night while holding down a day job didn't hurt either.

Eid, who entered the field of telecommunications law in 1988 after answering a blind ad in the Suffolk University law school bulletin, says she has been blessed with two big career opportunities.

The first one came when the anonymous job poster turned out to be Continental Cablevision, which hired her almost straight out of law school. By taking the job, she broke into the business with two of the most respected names in cable: Amos Hostetter, Continental's founder, and Robert Sachs, Hostetter's number two and current president of the National Cable Television Association.

Her second big break came last summer, when Marsha MacBride quit as mass media adviser to then-Commissioner Powell to become a lobbyist for Walt Disney Co. (MacBride has since returned to the FCC as Powell's chief of staff.)

"I feel like I've had these two great opportunities," Eid says. "I don't know if it's fate or if I fell into a bucket of luck."

But Eid's mentors from her early days at Continental give her more credit than she gives herself. For starters, she came to the company with five years experience as an aide in the Massachusetts legislature-an excellent background considering that the company needed a junior lobbyist in its Massachusetts district government affairs office. Company officials were equally impressed that she had earned her law degree at night, while working as a legislative staffer.

"She got her basic training working in the Massachusetts state house, which is a pretty good place to hone your political skills," Sachs says. "After joining us, she spent a number of years working on state and municipal issues. The best way to learn about the cable business from a government-relations perspective is working with local officials. Cable's roots are local, and the industry is heavily regulated at the local level."

After cutting her teeth lobbying Massachusetts policymakers, Eid steadily moved up the company's ranks. She became corporate counsel for the region in 1995 and stayed in that post after the company was acquired by US West and renamed MediaOne in June 1998. Soon after US West reversed course and spun off MediaOne, Eid moved to Washington as the cable company's FCC lobbyist. She stayed in that job until AT&T closed its acquisition of MediaOne in June and phased out her employer's Washington lobbying team.

Again luck was with her when MacBride announced in the same month that she was leaving her post as Powell's mass media and cable aide to join Disney's Washington crew. For Eid, the synchronicity couldn't have been better.

"When I came down to Washington, the only government post that appealed to me would be working for Commissioner Powell," she says. "So timing is everything."

Although she was an advocate on behalf of a major cable industry player for years, Eid says she made a determined effort not to let her past lobbying color her policy advice to Powell. "You have to close a door in your life, give the issues a fresh look and not let prior positions or advocacy influence the way you look at issues," she says. "It's not easy, but it's necessary."

Powell's own regulatory philosophy-he views the FCC's duty as narrowly interpreting the telecommunications law, rather than taking advantage of vaguely worded statutes to carry out his own social activism-helped her make the switch.

"Michael insists on being absolutely faithful to the law and looking at our job as judicial rather than legislative," she says. "The transition was made easier for someone like me because we have that model to follow."

Powell agrees that Eid has made a quick adjustment. "Susan is a gem," he says. "She is a very talented professional and came to us with a wealth of practical experience that helps immeasurably."