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Learning on the Job: TWC's Gillman Builds Bridges

Joan Gillman never met a contact that she didn't like. Now the executive vice president and president of media sales for Time Warner Cable, she has long known the value of networking and bridge-building.

“One of the aspects of my personality is I'm opportunistic in a good sense,” she said.

Her tendency to reach back and reconnect even extends to her marriage. Gillman first met her husband, Tim, when they were both delegates at a Model United Nations conference at the Statler Hotel in New York. That was 26 years ago, and they were both 17 years old.

“We dated for three months then broke up. Later we got back together and commuted [to be together] on weekends,” Gillman said. They've now been together 19 years.

Gillman, whose career path was not a linear one, didn't seem destined for a future in the cable industry. She got her bachelor of arts from the College of the Holy Cross in Worchester, Mass. and had designs on a medical career. She had been inspired by the challenges faced by neighbors who had a hearing impaired child.

Gillman thought she'd get a degree in medicine to help the disabled. But a part-time summer job at Yale University Medical School's neurosurgery department was one of the first turning points in her life.

“I didn't meet a single doctor who loved what they were doing,” she said. It was the beginning of the era of managed care and the physicians were buried in paperwork, she said.

She also saw that the most successful doctors were single-minded about their careers. Gillman realized she had conflicting interests and decided medicine would not bring her happiness.

That realization prompted her next career turn: politics. She received a master's in legislative affairs from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., in 1991. For 10 years, during and after her schooling, she worked on Capitol Hill in the office of U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.). One of her proudest achievements, outside the cable realm, was becoming the Senate's youngest legislative director, supervising direct reports 10 years her senior, Gillman said.

She might still be there but for the demands of her husband's job. When he was transferred to New York, Gillman reached out to contacts she had made while in the Senate, seeking advice on her next career move.

“When he proposed, he moved for my career. We try to support each other at the right time, the right opportunity,” she said.

Acting on advice to take a job in the burgeoning online space, Gillman joined the Web site Physicians Online in May 1995 as vice president of marketing, bringing her communications experience to the Internet.

But it wasn't long before Ted Gillman's job demands required another move, this time to London. Gillman reached out again to old friends and contacts to see if any of them could offer her an introduction to possible employers in the U.K.

One of those contacts was a fellow former Dodd staffer: Richard Plepler, now co-president of HBO, who had preceded Gillman as a staffer in Dodd's office and had been an occasional D.C. office guest. Plepler offered to circulate Gillman's résumé.

One of the recipients was BSkyB CEO Mark Booth. Gillman soon found herself on a team at British Interactive Broadcasting, developing a version of the Time Warner Full Service Network, “only on a different technology and to an entire satellite marketplace in one year,” she said.

The service was a joint venture between BSkyB, British Telecom, Matsushita and HSBC. Gillman oversaw business development, legal and regulatory teams.

After three years, the Gillmans planned a move back to the United States, and again contacts came through for the executive. John Botts, the principal in the venture capital firm Botts & Co. Ltd., introduced her to Nancy Peretsman, executive vice president and managing director of Allen & Co., who in turn introduced Gillman to Time Warner Cable president and CEO Glenn Britt.

“If you do a job well, people will come out of the woodwork to help you,” Gillman said. She was a consultant to the cable company for a year-and-a-half before joining the company as vice president of interactive TV and advanced advertising.

“Joan is the architect of our advanced advertising strategy and has also played a significant role in the foundation of Canoe,” Time Warner Cable chief operating officer Landel Hobbs said. “She is an invaluable asset to the company and the sector, and has made Time Warner Cable a leader in offering new advertising tools through the development of interactive TV and on-demand technology.”

Gillman said her greatest challenge at work is meeting all the stakeholders at the cable company: engineering, marketing, programming and IT. Her experience in Europe involved one headend; here, Time Warner has 64 headends.

A top priority for the year ahead will be rolling out plans for the sales division to be more competitive, addressing marketing, sales and research functions.

“Media Sales is an important area of growth for our company,” Hobbs said, “and under Joan's leadership we are well positioned to seize the opportunities being made in the ever changing advertising landscape.”