Interview Date: Monday June 21, 1999
Interviewer: Ruth Hartman
Collection: WICT 20th Anniversary Collection Project
THOMPSON: Pat Thompson, I've with Daniels and Associates, and I'm a senior vice president.
INTERVIEWER: Could you just spell your name?
THOMPSON: P-A-T T-H-O-M-P-S-O-N.
INTERVIEWER: How did you initially become involved in the cable industry?
THOMPSON: Well it was kind of a fluke, I had moved down from Montana, and I was working at a Commercialized Machine Company and on the day I started a salesman was leaving and his name was Charlie Marts and we shook hands and he left.
After a few years there I decided that I wanted to do something else, so, just, I don't know where his name came from, but, I gave him a call and he was working at Jones Intercable and I said is there any possibility of a job over there for me and I met with Glen Jones and we put our heads together and they created a position for me, which was systems analyst and basically what I did was the projections, by hand, this was before computers, for the partnership, to see what kind of return they would get on their investment and I started in 1978 with Jones Intercable.
INTERVIEWER: At the time your career in cable began, what did you find most striking about the industry?
THOMPSON: How young and new it was and how vibrant and it just seemed like there were no set rules, so that, whatever anybody wanted to do, they basically could do.
INTERVIEWER: Well, as you said, a lot of women have said that it was easier for them to break in to cable during its formative years, because there were no definite rules, so, would you agree with this assessment?
THOMPSON: Definitely. I think whenever you have something new and back then everybody really had the entrepreneurial spirit and everybody was just making up things as they went along, a lot of dreams, a lot of the men that started this industry basically had technical backgrounds, they weren't the Wall Street types that we're seeing now, so, I think it was a lot easier.
INTERVIEWER: What about your personal success, I know in 1995 you won an award from Daniels and Associates for having the most sales, what contributes to this success?
THOMPSON: I think that you have to have a drive, I know that I've really been fortunate to end up in this end of the business because, when I started, when I became a broker for Jones Intercable, it was in 1980/81 and there were no other women doing this and it's very much like real estate, only you're selling the business, but, it was very male dominated industry and it still is.
But, I enjoyed being with people, I knew the business, I had good training from working at Jones, so, I knew the financial end of things, so, it was very easy for me to go into that part of the business, I don't know whether there is any reason that I was successful, I think with sales, there are all sorts of things that come into play.
INTERVIEWER: Well, you did say it was a male dominated industry, did this for you prove to be a detriment, or an enhancement, do you think, to your success?
THOMPSON: I believe that it was an enhancement, because I think that I was this oddity out there that men didn't quite know what to do with, in fact, when I started my own company in 1982 there were many moments when I sat back and said what do you think you're doing, you know, you're going to go out, you're going to be meeting with the owners of all these companies and are they going to laugh at you or what and I was so surprised, because most of them thought that it was wonderful that I had the courage to go out and start my own company and I think they respected that and as soon as they knew that I knew what I was doing and talking about, then I was accepted.
INTERVIEWER: Let's talk about your company, what inspired you initially to start a business?
THOMPSON: I think that, when I was with Jones, everything that I looked at it was for them to buy and as I met with a lot of these small system owners, they would get very excited about selling their business and then for whatever reason Jones couldn't fit it into their portfolio, so there were several of them out there that were basically left hanging and I saw a niche for a broker to go out and deal with the small independently owned cable operators and I know that Daniels was already doing it and I think CEA, but, they were really concentrating on the bigger deals, so, it was just identifying this niche, and being fortunate enough to be able to break into it, although when I started in '82 interest rates were up, I think, at 22% and nothing closed, so, it was a little scary.
INTERVIEWER: What was the most satisfying aspect of having your own business?
THOMPSON: I'm not so sure that--I don't think satisfying is the right word to describe it, I never had this dream of owning my own business, it just was one of those things that kind of was the next step, so, I took it and if anything, there were a lot of sleepless nights worrying about if the deal was going to close, if the money was going to be there to pay your people and then, one time I had about 15 people working for me and I never realized how difficult it is to be a boss, because they, you know, would come to you if they had a problem and I always felt and I think this is the female, that you have to nurture them and take care of them and it was difficult many times, but, I think the satisfaction I had, was that just internally that I did it that I could do it.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think your management style has changed over the years?
THOMPSON: According to my husband it hasn't, he says I still manage him just like I did years ago, I don't think it's changed much, I think that as we get older, we have learned a lot over the years and you don't get as uptight about small things, you wait for the big things to happen and concentrate on those and fixing those, so, I think it's just a matter of mellowing out a little bit over the years.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have any contemporaries you view as role models?
THOMPSON: Well, I basically I don't have one or two, but, I think that the whole women in telecommunications the whole organization has been my mentor. Without them, I don't think I would of had the support that I needed when I started my own company, I've formed so many friendships, and also the organization has provided me with a platform in recognition that I honestly would never have gotten in the earlier years, so, it has been very important to me and I hope that the organization continues for many, many years, even though everything else is consolidating.
INTERVIEWER: What advice would you give to young women entering the industry today?
THOMPSON: I think the women entering the industry today, I think that they probably are very highly educated, they have some advantages that I didn't have when I started out and I think that they're so much better prepared to deal with things than my generation ever was, I think that my best advice to them is know you job, do it well and don't get caught up in corporate politics and I think basically just do your job and do it well.
INTERVIEWER: There are a lot of young folks today that are worried about balancing their professional and their personal life, would you have any advice about how to achieve balance in your life.
THOMPSON: You know it's a topic that all of us have discussed and thought about for so many years, it's very difficult to do, you cannot be all things to all people and I know that there was this myth of super woman who had her career and juggled her kids and had a good marriage and everything else, it's very difficult to do that, we all do, I think, what we can, when we have children, we love them, we try to make sure that they're taken care of and we feel a lot of guilt when you are traveling a lot and you have to leave them with someone, but, I think that a career was important for me, my children were important to me, thank goodness they grew up well, even in my absence so many times and I can talk to them, if you look at my children they're in their 30's late 20's and they tell me now how proud they are of me and they don't talk about when I wasn't there, so I guess it does balance up.
INTERVIEWER: Are you satisfied with the progress that women have made in the industry?
THOMPSON: I don't think any of us will ever be fully satisfied, but, I can look back in the late 50s' when I was in college and I knew then a woman was either married, she'd get married, she would be a nurse or she would be a teacher, so we didn't have the option, or at least we thought we didn't have the option to go into business, so many of the young women now are, you know, taking business courses, they're learning it from the ground up and with that they are able to come into these businesses so much more prepared then we ever were and yes strides are being taken, I don't think, like I said, the women will ever be satisfied until we really have complete equality with the men.
INTERVIEWER: What was the most challenging part of your career being in a sort of non-traditional female profession?
THOMPSON: I think that it was difficult to learn to my style was to sit back and watch and see where I really belonged, I honestly don't believe the style of confrontation works for a lot of people.
My business is typically male dominated, I think that over the years a few women have been involved, but, somehow I've survived, you just, it's more of a non-intimidating style that works for me and I think that, that has been why I've been successful.
INTERVIEWER: There was a lot of talk in the early 90s' about the glass ceiling, do you think there ever was a glass ceiling preventing women from achieving success, does it still exist?
THOMPSON: There definitely is a glass ceiling, but, I don't think the men get into a room and say, okay, now we're going to stop these women here, I think a lot of it has to do with culture, which is changing, I think that, let's face it, men are more comfortable with each other in a business setting, there really is a club there, they don't--I don't think any of them think that women aren't capable, I just think that it's going to be many years before most men can look at a women in business and stop themselves from thinking about their mothers or their wives, I mean, women have one role at home and another role in business and it's difficult, I think for the men to balance that.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think the recent and very dramatic changes in the industry have a good effect on women or a negative effect?
THOMPSON: The question is a little vague, I mean—
INTERVIEWER: Do you think that women have been adequately recognized for the contributions they've made to the cable industry?
THOMPSON: I think they've been recognized through this organization, I think that within their companies we're seeing a lot more promotions to the senior and executive vice president level and in the programming, a lot of women are presidents of the company, so, I think that depending on what recognition is salaries, I can't speak to, I know from myself I'm on the same level as everybody else in my company, when you're on commission, you know, you get paid on commission, it's as simple as that, but, I do see more and more women achieving above that vice president level, so, I think that, that's a step in the right direction.
INTERVIEWER: How did you initially become involved in women in cable and telecommunications?
THOMPSON: You know, I'm not sure if my memory goes back that far, when I started my own company I think that I was approached by the Rocky Mountain chapter and asked to become involved, and I was so thrilled that I was asked to become involved in something that it just went from there and I was an officer of the Rocky Mountain chapter and then also, with the national, and I really miss the involvement, I feel isolated from it, but, I know that just because I've so busy with my job I haven't been as involved and I've missed it a lot.
INTERVIEWER: How do you think WIC influence the industry at large?
THOMPSON: I'm not so sure that you could say it influences it as a whole, but, what it does is when you hear people say that their management course are some of the best that they've ever seen and that they want to send their people to these because they can learn more from that than anywhere else, and also when you see the support that the companies give the members of Women in Cable, that says a lot, it was very difficult in the formative years to get the companies behind us, I think they probably thought we were a bunch of radicals, but over the years they finally decided that we have served a great purpose and we have helped their women, that their proud of be recognized.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember any initial challenges in those early years that you might want to share about WIC?
THOMPSON: I'm not so sure this still isn't going on; we had many, many conversations about the name. Every year it seemed to be about the same thing as new members came in and new board members came in, and I think so many of us wanted to do so much, and we felt so frustrated that we couldn't, and I can remember in the early years a lot of discouraging remarks about the organization from many people and they've persevered, and I was so impressed by the breakfast at the national show, I looked around at all of the people and how big it was and I think in the first few years we were lucky if we had 20 or 30 people there, so, there have been dramatic strides I think.
INTERVIEWER: Do you, can you pinpoint one moment where you think WIC was finally sort of accepted and came into its own?
THOMPSON: No, I really can't. It's like anything, it's gradual, and all of a sudden it's there and it's a fact of life.
INTERVIEWER: Has WIC helped you with your professional development?
THOMPSON: I've been to many of the management seminars. I think anytime you're involved with a business organization like this, it helps you, whether you realize it or not and in just dealing with all of the wonderful women and men that have been involved in this organization that has helped too. But, there's no one thing that I can say that, you know, this has really helped.
INTERVIEWER: Looking back over your career, what would you say is your greatest professional achievement?
THOMPSON: Well, I think looking back over almost 21 years; I think that being able to survive in this so called man's world, being able to achieve the monetary rewards that I have.
Being able to have children that, like I said before, despite me, they grew up all right and have started their own careers now, also I think the recognition of the Van Guard award, this recognition is, it's got to be the height of my career, I almost feel, I was joking earlier, I almost feel like this happens when you're getting ready to retire, maybe the time is coming, I don't know.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have any predictions looking ahead where you see the industry going in the next five or 10 years?
THOMPSON: Like everybody else, I think we're a little bit nervous now, because of the consolidation, as far as my end of the business, I do wonder, we have for many, many years brokered the cable properties and communications properties and as they are bought up, it will change our business, it will probably change the whole business because of the suppliers, there will probably be consolidation there, there will probably be consolidation with programmers, so, big changes, and in consolidation that means many good people will be going into other industries, probably, so, I wish I had a crystal ball, but, I don't, I hope we have a few good years left.
INTERVIEWER: Could I ask you about your greatest professional accomplishment?
THOMPSON: My greatest professional accomplishment, I think, is being able to survive in this man's world, it's been interesting, I really have learned a lot. Also, I think that after 21 years in this business, looking back and think about the people that I've met and that has been a wonderful part of my career. And also my children, knowing that, they're proud of me, that counts for so much and the recognition of the Van Guard award, women of the year and now this recognition, almost more than I could ever hope for and I almost feel like there's nothing left, what can I do now and I always, I've often joked, that I'm probably the world's oldest living cable broker, so, it's been a good ride.
INTERVIEWER: Do you see more women entering the finance end and the brokering end of cable in recent years?
THOMPSON: I think that there are several women that have entered the investment banking side as far as cable brokerage per say, there never have been many women that have been interested in that part of it and I'm really not sure why, but, the investment banking side of it is changing a lot and especially in New York, you will see a lot of women in that end of the business.
INTERVIEWER: Well, I'm sure you came to this interview and anticipated some questions I might ask, did I not ask something that you want to bring up?
THOMPSON: No, on Monday morning, I wasn't even thinking that much.
INTERVIEWER: Anything you want to say about WIC or the industry—
THOMPSON: I would really like to thank all of you for this honor, it means a lot to me and I hope to see you all at some of the events again and I think that after this year, I can be more involved, because this year has been absolutely crazy, as most of you know and thank you again.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, well thank you.