Gayle Greer - WICT
Interview Date: 1999
Collection: WICT 20th Anniversary Collection Project
INTERVIEWER: Could you tell me how you initially became involved in the cable industry?
GREER: I was hired by a predecessor company called ATC is really how I first came into the industry. I was living in Fort Wayne, Indiana, I was executive director of a community organization, I was an MSW and was operating pretty much in that aena and I met the ATC people and over time we thought that there may be a fit for me to come in and work with franchising, so that's how I initially got into the industry.
INTERVIEWER: When your cable career began, what did you find the most striking about the industry as a whole?
GREER: The absence of people of color and I think that was accented by the fact my career prior to that had been in organizations that were primarily focused on urban and inner city issues, minority community issues, so, I had come from kind of one world to another world when I joined the cable industry, I was quite frankly shocked by the absence of people of color.
INTERVIEWER: What was the most challenging aspect of your transition from then from this world where there are more people of color to a world were there were few people of color?
GREER: Well, I think that my transition really was handled through work, as I indicated earlier, that how surprised I was that there were so few people of color in the industry, that it was a very foreign kind of experience, because my entire life had been just the opposite, with the short period time of spending some time in college, but, the community I grew up in and the whole thing. I think I adjusted by working. I also adjusted by getting involved in the community. I lived out south of Denver, which was primarily a non-minority, non-ethnic community, but, I spent quite a bit of time working with the Urban League and number of organizations, The United Way, to really get more diversity in my experience.
INTERVIEWER: I know that you do have a remarkable record for community service. Do you think you're unique in this, or do you think corporate America as a whole has a role in promoting a better society?
GREER: Yes, I believe that the corporation has a role, or should have a role in making a better society. When you look at the influence the corporations have on our lives, they have a large role. Quite frankly, I don't necessarily think that I'm that unique, one of the things that I have found that there are a number of organizations, for instance, in the industry which kind of lends itself to working in the community, like the National Association of Minorities in Communications, while it was an industry organization, they had a number of programs that worked with the community, like the scholarship programs, and the mentoring programs and those kind of things, so, I don't think I'm necessarily unique. It's just something that I needed while I was in the industry.
INTERVIEWER: I understand you had a role in founding NAMIC. Could you tell me what inspired you initially to found NAMIC in 1980?
GREER: I think it was perhaps another part of that adjustment as to why I was a part of the co-founding of NAMIC. It was trying to develop a community of people who were sharing and experiencing things that similar to what you were experiencing, both prior to coming into the industry as well as while being in the industry, I think there was a sense, there was an absence of community among the few minorities that were in the industry and that probably had a large part of motivating me and others in putting the organization together.
INTERVIEWER: How was NAMIC initially greeted by the industry? Did the industry welcome NAMIC at first?
GREER: You know, I think that, the industry was a little concerned about NAMIC and perhaps a lot of it had to do with the fact that there was a predecessor company to the National Association of Minorities in Cable, that had been very active in the industry working with trying to get more minorities in the industry and perhaps did not have, it was more kind of seen as an outsider group, and it was not necessarily perhaps seen as being kind of a part of a solution. When NAMIC came around, I think that the industry was puzzled by why do you need NAMIC, and what is NAMIC going to do? I think NAMIC made the industry a bit uncomfortable, but, it was companies like mine... there would not be a NAMIC, I do not believe, if ATC and HBO had not played the role that they played in funding the organization because in many instances the members often in the early years could not get membership through their companies. So, they needed to be at a certain level, in order to pay their own membership, and there were few of us at a certain level, so, ATC and HBO played a major role in kind of underwriting the activities of NAMIC in the early years.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember a point where the industry became more accepting of NAMIC, or was it gradual evolution for acceptance?
GREER: I think the acceptance of NAMIC was evolutionary. I think it's still going on quite frankly. I think that when NAMIC started having specific kinds of programs, like the Urban Marketing Seminar in New York that was always held at the same time, the same week of the Gates Foundation Dinner, doing things like that, having a membership that was more diverse than it had been in the early years. Again, I've talked about ATC and HBO, but there was an executive at ATC, Kevin Rourke, who was the first non-minority to join NAMIC and that was significant for the organization to get other people who embrace the values and goals of NAMIC to become a member and more and more that happened.
INTERVIEWER: Could I turn the conversation and talk about you and your personal success? I was wondering what are the key elements of your personal success in the industry?
GREER: The key elements of my personal success survival? I don't know, I guess I learned very early in life that when you embark upon something, be that your career, a volunteer project, or whatever, that you should do your very best, and so I've always been driven to do my very best. Working hard, trying to work smarter, certainly were some of the qualities, having some good friends and supporters were also. I had a good support network both in the industry and my family and outside the industry, and I think my social work training played a major role too, because I have very little difficulty working with people, communicating with people, understanding them and vice versa, so, I think all of that perhaps contributed to my success, whatever that was.
INTERVIEWER: During your career did you have any mentors or peers that you viewed as role models?
GREER: Yes, I did. There were several peers and role models, people like Stan Thomas was certainly a good friend and role model. Kevin Rourke was certainly a good friend and role model. You know, interestingly enough the three people who I think I spent with more personal time discussing those things that concerned me have died, which was a big adjustment for me, for such young people... and then there were others, you know, people like Ann Carlsen who has been a very, very dear friend for a number of years, and I could go on and on, and name people, a lot of peers especially, and a few mentors.
INTERVIEWER: What advice would you give to women or people of color entering the industry today if you were to serve as a mentor, what are the important lessons that you would emphasize?
GREER: You know, first I would certainly recognize that coming into the industry today is very different from coming into the industry 20 years when I came into the industry, and I'm not so sure it's unlike going into a number of other industries. Just to kind of compare the differences, when I came into the industry it was very young and was growing, it was very successful early on, all of that works to the advantage of people of color and women. Today, while it continues to grow, it is growing differently, there is a need for more specific kinds of skills, there is a different kind of person I think who would be successful going forward, there's certainly need to be able to adjust to all the changes that are being made in the industry. So I would tell the person coming into the industry, make sure that you are comfortable with change, do your very best, and I think I would also advise what I really didn't do very well, was not take it to seriously. It's just a job, and that there are other things that are just as important, if not more so, I think that would be kind of the message.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think the rapid changes within the industry are going to have a positive or negative effect on women and people of color?
GREER: I think it depends. I think it's going to take first an effort on the part of women and minorities, people of color to understand that things are changing, that there is an emphasis toward becoming more competitive in an arena that this industry has not been operating in and the digital Internet kind of arena. I think that strong skills, being smart, is much more important today, I think that there is going to be perhaps, there is an opportunity for women and people of color to really do better, because more than ever, this industry cannot afford to exclude people based on gender or race. They need as many smart bright young people coming into this industry as they can get, so, that says that there is a possibility that opportunities will be better.
INTERVIEWER: Are you satisfied with the advances that women and minorities have made since you began your career in the industry?
GREER: No. I am not satisfied with the progress that has been made, it certainly has been progress, I think I first will certainly acknowledge that, I'm not satisfied with the pace in which it has happened, but, I see it as something that is going to happen, there is no way that anything can stop it. So, I think if we were having this interview, five, six years from now, it would look, this industry will look a lot different than it looks today.
INTERVIEWER: So you think parity is possible within the next 10 or 15 years?
GREER: Yes, I think parity is possible, I think it's going to take a lot of hard work. I think it's going to take a lot of focus, and I think it's going to take an understanding on the part of people of color and older people and women that it is that they have a huge responsibility for their own careers in being successful. The days of companies kind of taking care of their employees and being concerned about their careers, if it ever was really there, it certainly not there today, and I think that would become less and less. And so I think number one it's very important to get your own act together, and I think organizations like NAMIC and WICT continuing to raise the consciousness, continuing to raise the issues of the kind of industry that is needed to attract people of color and women, I think all of that coming together certainly puts a big possibility for parity.
INTERVIEWER: What inspired you to start your own company?
GREER: I'm not sure, I think it was just a combination of things, because when I left Time Warner, almost a year ago now, I really had no plans to start a company, and certainly not a company on the Internet space, but, just a number of things came together, and I like what these people I met were doing. I saw a lot of possibility to kind of bring together my corporate experience with my non-profit community experience and the Internet certainly has given me that opportunity. I think that had a lot to do with why I am involved with this company.
INTERVIEWER: Could you tell me what your company does?
GREER: We are an Internet agency, we work with small and medium sized companies primarily helping them to develop their Internet strategy, and we also develop their presence, like a website. We will help them market, and monitor and maintain their site, help them to be better positioned and we take them from all the way from development and deployment through positioning and promoting them on the Internet and it really is all kinds of companies. It's really just helping companies take the next step.
INTERVIEWER: Do you see a larger trend of women starting their own companies?
GREER: Yes, there is a larger trend of women starting their own companies, and especially here in Colorado, Colorado has a very high number of percentage of women starting their own companies, but I think that is the result of a lot of things, I think the economy and the just the way the world is today certainly is playing a part in it, I think women today more so perhaps than when I was a young mother in the industry, are really seeking more balance, and wanting to spend more time with their children, so, their developing businesses that will allow them to have a lot more flexibility and I found out that even though I'm working as hard if not harder, and making no money at this point, there's something about being in control of your own destiny, being able to sit down and in a meeting and talk around the table with your partners, make a decision and move forward, there is probably nothing more rewarding than that, and creating the kind of work environment, that's another reason that I think that women are creating their own business, they're not finding the right kind of working environments, whether they are mothers or not quite frankly in many corporations, so their starting their own companies to create their own working environments.
INTERVIEWER: You said a lot of things I want to follow up on, try to get my thought in order. Well, you mentioned balance, and I know a lot of young folks, are interested in maintaining balance between their professional and their personal life, do you have any advise for them?
GREER: Well, I'm probably not the best person in the world to be advising people on how to create balance. I'm better at it today, then I was several years ago, but, I think number one is just to recognize the importance of it, I just find out from people who are younger, it?s important to them, they talk about it, they talk about their weekends, they talk about spending time with their families and doing things in their churches, and when I was coming up in this industry years ago, you didn't hear much about that, we were very intense, at least I was and really just felt the need to, cause there was so much dynamics going on, that you were so focused on your career, at least those who I was around that seem to be the case. But, I think that it is critical, and I think that when you recognize, as I said earlier, that it's a job, and it's not the end of the world and you shouldn't take it so seriously, I think that acceptance will help bring about balance.
INTERVIEWER: Why do you think the conversations about balance have changed from say 1980 to the present?
GREER: You know, that's an excellent question. I'm not sure I understand really why the whole issue around balance has taken on a different look. I was a single mom when I came into this industry with a teenager, and when I came in I had very little understanding of how much traveling I really was going to be doing, and I was traveling practically all of the time. However, it did not seem appropriate for me to complain about that, I did not feel that people around me were concerned about it, I didn't hear anybody else talk about it, and keep in mind, when I was traveling, there were very few women traveling, during these days, the early '80s. So, I traveled primarily with men, who had wives at home, so, I just had to do it. It was just not conducive to talking about balance, at least that's the way I felt. I could remember when I was in the national division at Time Warner Cable, hiring general managers and people, and you know, for men to say to me that they were planning on taking maternity leave when their wives had babies was just something very new and different, something happened, I guess. Maybe it's kind of my son's generation, perhaps we demonstrated to them and how our lives went just how important it was to bring balance into life because we were not real balanced.
INTERVIEWER: What would you say is your greatest professional achievement?
GREER: My greatest professional achievement? You know, I'm not so sure. I guess, going into this, as I said earlier, I had no real aspirations to be in this industry. My plans had always been to be a social worker, and I guess the greatest achievement is that without much planning and without much thinking, I did pretty good in this industry, and just lasting for 20 years, making a difference in some people's lives, watching people who I managed and mentored now in executive positions, I think those are things that I find the most pleasurable.
INTERVIEWER: Could you talk about your management style, has it evolved over the last 20 years?
GREER: My management style for the most part I think has also been influenced by my training, and that is beginning with a basic respect for the people that I work with. My management style also recognizes that there's very little I could get accomplished by myself, and that when you hire people to work with you and around you who are smart and energetic, that all makes a huge difference.
INTERVIEWER: There was a lot of talk in the early '90s about a glass ceiling. Do you think there ever was a glass ceiling preventing women from achieving professional success? If so, does it still exist?
GREER: The glass ceiling... I've always been pretty intrigued by that. I think when you talk about it from a symbolic perspective of whether or not women have just as much opportunity and access to the upper positions of this industry - I think there's still a way to go - I think a lot of it has to do with how this industry started, the history of this industry. But, more and more I think that the ceiling is getting higher and higher, but, there's still a way to go before I think women truly have the same opportunity and are viewed on the basis of their skills and abilities and not on the fact that they are women and therefore that means this and does it mean that. I think that's still with us for a while, I think a lot of us old folks have to die off before you will really see parity as it relates to moving up in this industry, but, it's going to happen. It's inevitable.
INTERVIEWER: You mentioned the history of this industry, and how it sort of set a tone. Did you find in your own career its entrepreneurial and almost fraternal nature was a detriment to you, or did that somehow give you more opportunity?
GREER: Well, I think initially the entrepreneurial part of it certainly gave me more opportunity. I just think that when things are moving as fast as they were in this industry in the early '80s there was a people issue during those days. You didn't have 100 people for every position to make a decision from in the early '80s and people weren't real sure about whether or not this was for real, because when I came into the industry, I didn't look at it as any long-term career. So, I think the early part of the years it was entrepreneurial. I think it became less entrepreneurial though as the companies got bigger. For instance in my own personal experience, I felt that ATC was a lot more entrepreneurial than Time Warner, and I think that it became a lot more structured. When I joined the industry very few of your major companies even had human resources departments. Now, I'm not suggesting that that's a bad thing or that's a good thing, but, I think that the entrepreneurialism about the industry had a lot to do with how well some of us did.
INTERVIEWER: So, do you think the industry loses something as it sort of consolidates and becomes less entrepreneurial and more structured?
GREER: Well, that's certainly the trend, as you look at other industries that have consolidated. I was beginning to sense that before leaving Time Warner. The emphasis during a period of consolidation is just so different and so a lot of the things that you perhaps may have paid attention to 10 years ago, just weren't really issues because you're not sure... someone said to me in Chicago, at NCTA earlier that, you know, I never know from year to year, or month to month, what company I'm going to be with, or who I'm going to be working with, or who I'm going to be working for, that kind of thing. So, it changes and I think that as companies become bigger they become less entrepreneurial, and that could be a good or bad thing. But, I think that they evolved companies centralize and they decentralize and they consolidate and so all of these changes bring about differences in terms of how one should perhaps navigate their career.
INTERVIEWER: How did you become involved with Women in Cable?
GREER: I think I became involved with Women in Cable in large part because June Travis was ATC and was very instrumental in the founding of the WICT organization. Shortly after the founding, there was a very active chapter here in Denver that I got involved with, and it also brought me in contact with more women. That was something that I really missed a lot in my company and in my travels in my job, women that you could view as peers and share experiences with, so, that's how I became involved.
INTERVIEWER: Did WICT contribute to your professional growth?
GREER: I think so, I remember early on coming into an industry that was so business- oriented, performance-oriented, cash-flow focused, some of the earlier courses that I took in some of the WICT programs were just excellent and I think they helped a lot in my ability to really get through complicated issues within my own cable systems that I was managing. So, I think it did. Also the network that it provided, you always had someone that you could call on and ask a question, or get involved in some way, so, yes, it did, both NAMIC and Women in Cable played a role.
INTERVIEWER: How do you see NAMIC and Women and Cable influencing the industry at large? Do you think they're effective in getting their message across?
GREER: Yes, I happen to believe that people who take on issues, issues of gender or issues of race, especially in an industry like this industry, are really taking on a lot, and I admire people who are willing to kind of stand up for what they believe and there are certainly a number of people who are in WICT who are doing that and in NAMIC who are doing that. It's just not a comfortable role for the industry, to kind of understand and so, it's going to be hard. I think it's going to be difficult as the industry continues to consolidate. Its focus is on getting bigger, its focus is on competition, and organizations like Women in Cable and NAMIC will just have to continue to reinvent themselves over and over to continue to be effective in an industry that is changing so rapidly.
INTERVIEWER: Have you seen Women in Cable and NAMIC changing in any significant way since their inception in the early '80s?
GREER: Yeah, I have, both organizations have changed. Well of course, they've matured and are certainly a lot more sophisticated in their programs. In both organizations, I think they have become a lot more savvy, especially in the part of NAMIC on really how you get things done when you are talking about issues around employment of women and minorities. So yes, they've both changed, and they've both grown up and I think they are much better and bigger successful organizations today as a result of it.
INTERVIEWER: Do you foresee a point when these types of organizations aren't necessary in the industry? Would we ever reach their level of parity where WICT and NAMIC won't be needed?
GREER: Well, it depends on how you look at these organizations. If you look at them as only for the purpose of helping one achieve parity, then as I indicated earlier, there will be a day that that will happen. That's just going to happen, but, I think there are other benefits of being a part of organizations like NAMIC and Women in Cable. It's being around people that you share a lot of experiences with; it's being in a network where you can continue to grow and develop. I'm a real big fan of affinity groups, that's another reason why I like the Internet. There are all kinds of affinity groups that are coming together on the Internet. So, I think that being a part and belonging to an organization of people who share experiences and like interests, will suggest that there will always be a role for organizations like Women in Cable and NAMIC.
INTERVIEWER: Is there anything that I haven't asked you that you want to bring up about your new company, about WICT or NAMIC or about the industry as a whole?
GREER: Well, I think that perhaps a good way to end the interview would be to say that I feel very blessed to have been involved in this industry and to have been an active member in Women in Cable and Telecommunications as well as the National Association of Minorities in Communications. I have learned a lot, I have grown a lot, I have become a lot more prosperous, and I am able to do a lot of things today as a result of all those relationships and associations. It's been a wonderful career. It's been a hard at times, but when I look back on it, I'd do it again.
INTERVIEWER: Well, thank you.