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MCNWW 2015 Jennifer Hightower: Finding Purpose in Policy

Cox Counsel Is Right at Home in a Job She Doesn’t Hate 1/26/2015 8:00 AM Eastern

JENNIFER HIGHTOWER

TITLE: SVP, Law and Policy, General Counsel, Cox Communications

AGE: 49

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Before joining Cox initially to handle telephone regulatory matters, held legal positions at Drew, Eckl & Farnham , RaceTrac Petroleum and BellSouth.

QUOTE: “Cox is a company that trusts their employees and empowers their employees to work on new, exciting issues. It is a culture that people want to stay in, and I have been lucky enough to be able to stay.”

 

Jennifer Hightower always wanted to be a litigator, but found her true passion in the weeds of communications policy.

 

As general counsel and senior vice president for law and policy at Cox Communications in Atlanta, where she has risen up the ranks since 1997, Hightower oversees all legal functions for the No. 3 U.S. cable provider, with 6 million customers.

 

In addition to litigation matters, big focuses for Hightower are net neutrality and interconnection issues, but she’s hardly alone there. “I work a lot with my leadership team on policy positions, and we work very closely with our D.C. lobbying office,” the Atlanta-based executive said.

 

She heads up a staff of 64 and oversees compliance, privacy, legal operations, regulatory affairs, litigation and corporate government-affairs teams on the local and national levels.

 

TITLE II OUTLOOK

“We are still supportive of the thought process, which may be a losing one, that you should not just automatically go to Title II. I recognize that the politics aren’t with us,” she said of the current fracas over whether to regulate Internet access as a common-carrier service under Title II of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. But “Title II and the economic fees and taxes could totally change the economic landscape,” which could be “exactly opposite of what the president wanted,” she added.

 

“We’re living in an unprecedented time where the President is personally weighing in on our business, and it is increasingly important to have top-notch people providing counsel,” Cox president Pat Esser told Multichannel News, referring to President Obama’s very public support of Title II classification.

 

“Jenn has a wealth of telecom experience and brings a practical approach to the increasingly complex legal and regulatory environment in which we operate,” Esser said. “Her leadership will help ensure we can continue to confidently invest and innovate to benefit our customers and communities for many years to come.”

 

Hightower has said that she loves the “Cox culture.” But what exactly does that mean? “I’ve grown up in my legal profession here. I moved around to several jobs before I came to Cox and once I got here I was able to grow up and become a better lawyer.”

 

She described that culture as a very supportive atmosphere in which the in-house counsel is expected to take on new challenges, rather than hiring external experts. Thus, Hightower got to work on the launch of voice-over-Internet protocol telephone service and on cutting out @Home Networks, the broadband safety net that Cox started out with. “I was here when we became self-reliant and had to leave @Home,” the Internet-access service partnership with Comcast and others, she said.

 

“I was one of the lawyers who helped us get into wireless and one of the lawyers who helped us get out of wireless,” she added, referring to Cox’s on-again, off -again experiments in wireless phone operation and sales.

 

Hightower grew up in Louisville, Ky., the youngest of four children in a “stable, middle-class family.” Her father worked for General Electric all of his life.

 

She graduated from Vanderbilt and headed to Emory University in Atlanta for law school, thinking she wanted to be a litigator.

 

After three years at a litigation firm and the “stress” of trying cases, she found that she “hated every minute of it.”

 

She became in-house counsel for a petroleum company and hated that too, she said, next moving to then-Baby Bell telco BellSouth.

 

She didn’t hate it. “It was at the time of the [1996] Telecom Act and I happened to work in the corporate group that was working on the act, so I learned hands-on. I came to Cox [in 1997] with a telecom background, and that was when Cox was just getting into telephone.”

 

What did she like about being a non-litigator? “I like deal work. I like getting to ‘yes’ for the business. I like regulatory work because it is very strategic. It is like puzzle-solving.

 

“I came to Cox as a contract person,” she said. “So I did all the back-office deals. It is how we got telephone up and running. And eventually I learned how to do interconnection because at Cox you kind of have to learn as you go.

 

Cox also has been supportive of a female executive with three sons — 11-year-old twins and an 8-year-old.

 

“When I first had my twins, I was able to work four days a week for the first four or five years, and that was ideal. When my job got bigger, I was no longer able to work four days a week, but flex time is very much encouraged.”

 

Hightower said she sets limits to achieve a stable home life of her own, and Cox respects that.

 

She also credits her husband, Scott Hightower, a former Cox executive. “He is truly the rock star and a partner in every sense of the word. In the interests of full disclosure, I met and married my husband here and, because he left, I had more opportunities open up for me.”

 

FAN OF ‘THE GOOD WIFE’

When she isn’t shaping the policy message for Cox, Hightower likes to spend time with family and entertaining friends, and catching up on the legal machinations of The Good Wife. “It is my favorite show because of the powerful woman role model [a high-profile female attorney balancing career and parenthood] and because of its timeliness in addressing current legal issues.”

 

Being a woman has been a career advantage, Hightower said. “Being in the cable industry, I think I have had resources and opportunities that I don’t think my male counterparts have had.”

 

As for mentors, she said, “I would love to give a shout out to my first boss at Cox, [former general counsel] Jim Hatcher, because he really taught me the culture of Cox; to my current boss, [chief financial officer] Mark Bowser, because he took a chance on me, and [chief operating officer] Jill Campbell, because she is so supportive of women.”

 

What would Hightower like to be doing in five years? “I hope they still want me here. I am not looking for my next job.”

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