The Vanguard Award for Cable Operations Management


advice Cathy Avgiris has for anyone looking to get ahead in the cable

Avgiris, a certified public accountant by training, has ascended
Comcast’s ranks over the course of her 18-year career with the operator.
In her current role overseeing all aspects of the MSO’s broadband,
voice and wireless services, she’s become well-versed in a variety of
cable and telecommunications technologies.

“Nobody should be afraid to ask, ‘Help me understand how this
works,’” she said.

Avgiris — this year’s recipient of the Vanguard Award for Cable Operations
Management — has helped build Comcast into the powerhouse
provider of Internet and phone service it is today. At the end of
March, the company had 16.3 million high-speed Internet subscribers
(up 7% from a year earlier) and 7.9 million phone customers (up
17%). That makes Comcast the country’s largest wireline broadband
provider and the third-largest telephone provider.

Her industry peers express admiration and respect for Avgiris’s nononsense
management style. “Cathy has a wonderful ‘get it done’ — or
shall I say ‘git ’er done’ —approach,” said Nomi Bergman, president of Bright
House Networks. “A modest and unassuming person, Cathy is also a wonderfully
decisive leader.”

After growing up in Brooklyn, Avgiris received an accounting degree
from New York City’s Baruch College. She originally joined Comcast
in June 1992, as vice president of finance for its Northeast region,
covering New Jersey and Connecticut, after working as the chief financial
officer for a small forklift manufacturer.

Avgiris started with Comcast when the entire company had only 2 million
subscribers. “We didn’t even have a digital video product,” she said.

Avgiris later worked with Comcast’s Internet team, back when there
were 150,000 high-speed customers provided through the @Home
venture. “We had one service tier, at 1.5 Megabits [per second], and
we thought that was the greatest thing since sliced bread compared
with 56K modems.”

For the past five years, Avgiris has run Comcast’s Digital Voice business,
and last year she assumed responsibility for the wireless and
high-speed Internet divisions.

Avgiris has a “unique ability to challenge and stretch both her team
and suppliers to achieve goals that initially seem impossible,” according
to Bruce McClelland, president of Arris’ Broadband Communications
Systems group. “She has a reputation for being firm yet fair and
creates a goal-oriented team environment where everyone knows their
role and focus on achieving common objectives.”

Avgiris, who lives in the Philadelphia area, is a member of the Forum
for Executive Women and is part of the mentoring program run by the
Women in Cable and Telecommunications’ Philadelphia chapter.

Among her accolades, she is a member of Multichannel News’ 2007
Wonder Women class.

Here’s one of her most unusual awards: a gold-plated cable voice
modem in her office, which Arris bestowed on her when Comcast Digital
Voice hit 1 million subscribers in September 2006.

What’s next? Ideally, more of the same. Avgiris’ top goals for 2010 are to
continue to win market share in her three businesses areas —broadband,
voice and wireless — as well as improve the overall experience for Comcast
customers and engage them in more ways “that are meaningful to them.”

“In a competitive environment you’ve really got to do a good job because
customers have choices,” Avgiris said.

Aiming to keep the broadband leadership position, Comcast expects
to deliver 100-Mbps residential broadband service widely this year, a
package Avgiris expects will be called Extreme 100.

“Our challenge is to be out in front of the Internet ecosystem,” she
said. “We need to stay ahead of the things that consumers want to do
with those kinds of speeds.”

She also sees wireless as a huge opportunity, and Comcast is one
of the key strategic investors in Clearwire, along with Sprint Nextel,
Time Warner Cable, Bright House, Intel and Google. Comcast’s vision
for wireless is “we’re inside the home looking out — we want to provide
the best three product inside the home, and then extend that in
as many ways as possible outside the home,” Avgiris said.

Over the last two decades, the cable business has become “obviously
more complex with more products and services,” Avgiris conceded.
But, she said, that underscores exactly what Comcast is in business to
do — to try to simplify the entire of suite of services for customers. “It
should be easy for them to use, easy for them to understand.”

Still, keeping on top of everything can be a 24/7 task. Avgiris, who
has friends and family in Greece and is fluent in the language, recently
took a vacation to the country. She found it impossible to cut the cord
from the office completely. “BlackBerrys work there, too,” she said with
a laugh. “It’s become such an instant-access world we live in.”

At the same time, Comcast’s culture is still the same as it was when
she came on board in 1992, she said.

“Ralph and Brian [Roberts] are intimately involved in the business,”
she said. “It’s like a big family business. That’s so wonderful an experience
to be a part of.”