Powell: Cable Should Be Proud of Diversity Efforts

NCTA president Michael Powell kicked off "Diversity Week" in New York by giving the cable industry credit for "an extraordinary convocation" that will help it thrive in a world of changing consumer tastes, fierce competition and ever-present regulatory risk.

"I challenge you to tell me another industry that commits an entire week to not only celebrate the virtues of diversity but to insist that we train and develop leaders for our future around the concept," Powell said at the Women in Cable Telecommunications Leadership Conference Monday morning.

Powell --- a former FCC chairman and Army officer who used a few military metaphors in his speech -- said he was "extraordinarily proud" to be the first black leader of the National Cable Telecommunications Association. He called himself a beneficiary of diversity principles in business management and pledged to help others benefit, as well. "If you're not doing that, you're not being diversity, you're talking about it."

He credited WICT, the National Association of Multi-ethnicity in Communications and the Walter Kaitz Foundation with revitalizing the Diversity Week concept. Other events this week focused on the diversity-in-action theme include the 25th annual NAMIC conference and the Kaitz Foundation's benefit dinner on Wednesday.

In early 2010, after top cable companies had pushed through a plan to consolidate many industry events into clustered weeks in spring and fall in various cities, the NCTA helped put together a plan to restore what for years had been annual fall events in New York focused on diversity efforts.

Other annual conferences, including the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing's gathering, have also been scheduled for New York this week, drafting on Diversity Week.

Powell said innovative leadership means being adaptive and making decisions without getting buried in data. It means doing the little, extra things well. It also means having core principles that you stick to, individually and as an organization. "

"We, cable, stand for something," he said. "Not just good products and services for consumers but values that we're proud of and proud to be employees in the service of the industry."

The son of Colin Powell, the famed retired Army four-star general and former secretary of state, said diversity also includes embracing a variety of leadership styles. "Sometimes it takes the touch of a diplomat. Sometimes it takes the fearness and fierceness of a general."

The country is becoming "minority majority," he said, so companies' employees and leaders need to reflect that change in order to innovate and succeed.

In visits to labs and in talks with executives, Powell said he has seen that "this is an industry that is on the cusp of the next great chapter of innovation. The next set of products and services that are extraordinarily exciting are on the way." Broadband is the 21st century architecture, he said, and cable, with about two-thirds market penetration of high-speed Internet service, is the country's broadband leader. Powell said he like to remind the FCC, when it comes time to celebrating the likes of Facebook, Google and Twitter, that those innovations were enabled by the cable industry's introducing "always-on" Internet access.

"Strong leadership, a diverse industry, means cable is strong," he said. "I'm proud to know that this is an industry that even in the worst of the downturn managed to thrive. We are something the consumer likes, loves and needs. We should take that responsibility seriously."

WICT said more than 600 attended the opening session and more than 850 were on hand for the Touchstones Luncheon, honoring Bright House Networks president Nomi Bergman, Turner Broadcasting Systems SVP Jennifer Dorgan and HGTV SVP and general manager Kathleen Finch. For profiles of the winners, please see today's Multichannel News.