MCNWW 2014: ‘Wonder Women’ Share Lessons, Life Stories and Advice

Beginning with a story about working in a steel mill and ending with lessons in “Wonder Woman-ness,” the 16th annual Wonder Women luncheon had more than its share of timeless and timely tales about the lives and careers of a dozen successful women in cable.

Comcast’s Kathryn Zachem (you can find everyone’s titles in our More Online link) told the steel mill anecdote, about being hired in 1977 as one of the first women to be a day laborer for U.S. Steel in Pittsburgh. The man assigned to train her to fix turbines chose not to speak to her for the first two weeks. The ice was finally broken after she fetched a tool the trainer, Mike, had forgotten to bring. When Zachem returned, he laughed and said, “Kathy, I needed a ratchet, not a hatchet,” she recalled, adding, “From that day on, we were inseparable.” Years later, Mike, the pipefitter, recognized Zachem at the airport and, with tears in his eyes, greeted and congratulated her on becoming a “woman lawyer.”

Cablevision’s Lisa Rosenblum joked that she was surprised to have been named a Wonder Woman for her years doing legal and regulatory work. “Cablevision, after all, is known for being such a quiet company, existing calmly on Long Island and shying away from disputes of any kind or public policy battles,” she said in deadpan fashion. She credited company founder Charles Dolan, current CEO Jim Dolan and several other executives, including Sheila Mahony, who Rosenblum met while still a member of the New York State Public Service Commission, when Cablevision first proposed offering phone service.

Univision’s Jessica Rodriguez spoke emotionally of growing up in the South Bronx and sharing with her family an emotional connection with programming on Univision. After an early foray onto Wall Street, she “practically begged” her way into a Univision job, and she’s very happy to be there some 13 years later. “Some people say that life is a novella,” she said. “Well, today I’m living my fairy tale. I have a dream job at my dream company.”

NBCUniversal’s Patricia Fili-Krushel was unable to attend due to knee surgery. Co-host Hoda Kotb, of NBC’s Today, took a podium photo for her “so she knows what you look like.” Kotb read some remarks from Fili-Krushel, who advised attendees to “find the people you believe in and pull them along with you.”

ESPN’s Jodi Markley said she had learned a lot during 18 years in ESPN’s international operations, introducing the brand in places that had never heard of ESPN and adapting to changes in countries, languages and teams on a regular basis. She said she learned people everywhere respond to integrity, courage, clarity of purpose and respect. And she said mentoring makes companies like ESPN a better place.

Kimberly Maki, of Bright House Networks, spoke of growing up in Michigan to parents who adopted her, adding her to a home that already had three boys in it. “That day, I got a home because my parents chose me,” she said, and the love and security she felt gave her “rock solid confidence.” Hard work led her through college into journalism and corporate communications. She credited much to having heard these four words: “I believe in you.”

TiVo’s Tara Maitra attended the 2004 Wonder Women luncheon, was impressed and emailed Comcast’s Amy Banse, a Wonder Woman in 2003, to say she hoped to take part in one some day. Maitra credited her longtime boss, TiVo CEO Tom Rogers, and called him a man who saw things others didn’t. “I’m proof of that,” she said. “Ten years ago, you never would have seen someone from TiVo receiving a cable award.” She also said the humanresources oversight in her job had drilled home the old adage that “everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about, so please be kind.”

Crown Media’s Laura Lee was inspired by her mom, who drove her to elementary school every day. Most days her mom left the house with big rollers in her hair and, while driving, quizzed young Laura on school subjects, using flash cards she had prepared in advance. “She was incredibly smart and pushed me to work hard, think big and laugh a lot along the way.” She taught her daughter to be prepared, how to do several things at once while being dedicated to each moment and that women could do anything they set their minds to.

Turner’s Brenda Freeman said media audiences are changing, “becoming more diverse, demanding that our industry step up, stay relevant, and hire talent and develop content that reflects the face of this new general market.” To play a part in encouraging that next generation of decision makers, she works closely with the Girl Scouts organization and the Savannah College of Arts and Design. Quoting Pharrell, she declared, “I’m happy.”

Janet Nova, of 21st Century Fox, was named as News Corp.’s interim general counsel in June 2011. “Three weeks later, I was sitting behind Rupert Murdoch in London, facing a parliamentary committee conducting an inquiry into phone hacking,” she said. “While Google thinks my attempt to protect Rupert from the shaving-cream pie was my career highlight, the real highlight of that period was the experience I gained in advising the company for a year throughout that crisis.”

Jennifer Chun of Time Warner Cable provided a timely highlight, saying the impending merger with Comcast had “caused us to think about where we might be in a year or so.”

“Probably a little early to tell, but I think we all know that there will be change and things will be different,” Chun said. “So if you’ll indulge me, I’d actually like to eulogize our content acquisition deal team for a second.” Invoking what colleague Susan Weinstein called “our senior year,” Chun then assigned “yearbook predictions” to team members, such as most likely to form a garage band, open a gastro pub or broker world peace.

SundanceTV’s Sarah Barnett passed along eight “top lessons in Wonder Womanness.” The first (No. 8), from Sundance founder Robert Redford, was: When they zig, you zag. Meaning, resist group-think and easy-consensus decisions, and strive for the remarkable. The last, No. 1, was to make your own way. “Decide for yourself what’s important to you, craft your own Wonder Woman Rules, make it fun and true, and make it matter for you in your own, brilliant way.”

The March 26 event at the New York Hilton, co-sponsored by Multichannel News and the New York chapter of Women in Cable Telecommunications, was attended by about 750 people.

Kent Gibbons

Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.