Smooth Operator

NAME: Christine Whitaker
TITLE: Senior VP, Keystone Region
COMPANY: Comcast
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: In her first year at Keystone, the division reported positive video customer growth for the first time in 13 years. She followed up with another year of positive video growth the following year, and in 2017, Keystone was named Comcast’s co-region of the year.
QUOTABLE: “I live by a comment that [former Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice said in a women’s leadership program that I was in: ‘Surround yourself with truth-tellers and you’ll get the best results.’ I think that’s what we’ve done here and I attribute that to my team.”

Comcast’s Christine Whitaker is fond of a particular moment in the reel of her life story that changed her way of thinking forever.

Christine Whitaker

Christine Whitaker

Now senior vice president of Comcast’s Keystone Region, Whitaker was an operations executive in Alexandria, Va., in 2003. During her first week in that position, a complaint came across her desk from a customer who said his wife had been made uncomfortable by a male cable technician on a house call.

He demanded they send a female tech to finish the job. Whitaker naturally agreed to send one. After telling her operations manager to send the next available woman to the address, she noticed as an odd look came across the manager’s face.

“He looked at me like I had three heads,” Whitaker said. “He said, ‘Uh, we don’t have any female technicians.’ So guess who went out on that service call? I did.”

That kind of can-do attitude has been a hallmark of Whitaker’s 25-year career in the cable industry. And it has served as a catalyst for her work promoting diversity and inclusion.

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“I have always been an advocate for diversity in general, but that was probably an ‘a-ha’ moment for me that got me very committed to the work,” Whitaker said. “I spend a lot of time doing mentoring and seeking out ways to attract diverse candidates into nontraditional roles so our company would not only be better, but we would demonstrate our commitment to diversity and inclusion.”

Knack for Operations

A self-described fierce competitor, Whitaker joined Comcast in 1994 from accounting firm KPMG, first in its external reporting unit. A CPA, she found out fairly soon that she had a knack for operations.

“Frankly, I was fascinated by the way the cable organization was run, because it was incredibly decentralized,” Whitaker said. “All those folks that sat in seats that I sit in today were their own quasi-business leaders and had tremendous opportunity to influence operating strategy and apply good business to everyday problems. And there was the triple bonus of leading people.”

That passion took Whitaker through Comcast divisions in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia. In 2009, Whitaker was offered a chance to spread her wings further, first as a VP of operations at Time Warner Cable’s Eastern North Carolina market and later as group VP and chief learning officer, responsible for leadership and development for all of TWC’s 55,000 employees.

When Comcast bid for Time Warner Cable in 2013, Whitaker was brought back into the fold, working to integrate a team for the newly combined company. It was an opportunity to not only get back into operations, but also to the company she loved.

Whitaker spent the next 14 months putting together a team for what was expected to be a new Comcast-TWC Northeast footprint, straddling both jobs at both companies. When the merger was called off in April 2015 after Comcast realized it would not receive regulatory approval, Whitaker was asked to join the company anyway and that July was named head of the Keystone Region, which serves more than 1.5 million customers and covers parts of Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, northern West Virginia and the Maryland panhandle. (TWC was ultimately acquired by Charter.)

Whitaker’s work on the TWC deal was not in vain. The team she had assembled for what would have been a Comcast-TWC footprint stayed surprisingly intact.

At Keystone, Whitaker also inherited one of the longest-tenured workforces in the Comcast family, with a staff reputation for hard work and meeting its goals. While the region already was a well-run operation, Whitaker said she and her boss, Comcast Northeast Division president Kevin Casey, knew that it could be better.

‘Steel Curtain’ Gameplan

She gave employees the leeway to take risks and launched “Operation Steel Curtain” to win back customers from rival Verizon Fios in Pittsburgh, not just through promotional offers but through increased reliability and customer service.

The result? The Keystone Region reported positive video subscriber growth for the first time in 13 years during Whitaker’s first year on the job. The same was true in her second year. About 30 months after rejoining the company, the Keystone Region was named Comcast’s co-system of the year.

“Christine is an authentic leader and encourages others to be the same,” Dave Watson, CEO of Comcast Cable and senior executive vice president of Comcast Corp., said. “She’s created a culture of excellence in our Keystone Region that values operational and financial success the same way it values mentorship, inclusiveness and integrity. She is a ‘Wonder Woman’ in every sense, and I’m delighted Multichannel News has recognized what those of us at Comcast are privileged to experience every day.”

Whitaker’s efforts to engage, support and encourage don’t stop with employees. She has taken an active role to mobilize the community, forging partnerships with community colleges and technical schools to show that those types of roles and jobs are available to nontraditional people in the organization.

“One person at a time,” Whitaker said. “We were one of the first in our division, the Northeast division, to stand up our diversity and inclusion council. We get the best results when we have all the voices in the room.”

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