Distinguished Vanguard Award for Leadership3/28/2009 2:00 AM Eastern
While women have climbed into the top ranks of the cable programming business, they remain much less prominent on the operational and tech side. A rare exception is Bright House Network's Nomi Bergman, winner of this year's Vanguard Award for Leadership by a Woman, the only female president of a top 10 MSO.
“Nomi is probably the most tenacious and hardest working person I've worked with in my career,” said Kashif Haq, the strategic execution officer at Bright House. “But she's not like a bull in a China shop when it comes to accomplishing her goals. She has extremely strong operational experience, which people really respect, and she is at her best in bringing together a diverse group of people to solve critical issues that might be facing either our business or the industry in general.”
“She has an uncanny ability to select people,” added her father and Bright House chairman Robert Miron. “She has great judgment and then develops tremendous loyalty among her staff. [Nomi and her brother, Bright House CEO Steve Miron] form a terrific team, and between them they have led Bright House to being a leader in all aspects of the business.”
As a private company, Bright House releases few operating metrics, but evidence of the operator's success can be seen in a variety of measures. Bright House's phone product, which was launched in 2004, has since attracted around 700,000 customers, and it has managed to maintain or grow its other products even though it was one of the first cable operators to face major competition from the launch of Verizon Communications' FiOS TV.
Bright House has fended off other competitors, as well. In Florida, the company's largest market, it had faced competition from satellite and from the overbuilder Knology for a number of years prior to the launch of FiOS. “We believe satellite penetration in our Florida markets is far beneath the national averages,” Bergman said.
But the MSO redoubled its efforts when Verizon chose Florida for the second launch of its FiOS product. The systems began an intensive reexamination of every aspect of their business to improve operations and worked to make their consumer offerings more appealing. “We have done a good job with stable video penetration, despite the increased landline competition for video,” Bergman said.
The company has also established itself as something of an innovator on the tech side. Haq said Bright House was one of the first operators to roll out a Metro Ethernet transport platform and to deploy Ethernet-over-fiber services for business customers. It was also an early adopter of an all Internet protocol-converged network strategy and has been aggressively deploying the “Start Over” service — developed by its partner Time Warner Cable to allow subscribers to play back recent programs — on that converged network. The Bright House systems are owned jointly by Time Warner Cable and Advance/Newhouse Partnership, which manages the systems.
“We have Start Over deployed in half of our footprint today and we have plans for nearly all of our divisions to deploy it later this year,” Bergman said. “The company has also been deploying switched digital video in most of our divisions,” which will free up bandwidth for additional services, such as HD content.
Those efforts have also translated into high consumer ratings. In 2008, J.D. Power ranked Bright House as the highest in consumer satisfaction for digital phone and data services among operators in the South region.
Some of Bergman's operational expertise can be traced back to her father, who has long been a prominent cable executive. “At the dinner table, my family would talk about things going on in the cable industry the way other families might talk about weather or politics,” she recalled.
After graduating with a degree in economics and statistics from the University of Rochester, Bergman began her career as a systems consultant at Arthur Andersen & Co. She loved the work but in late 1987, her cousin Mark Newhouse, convinced her to join Advance Publication's The Systems Group, which provided consulting services to the print, cable and media businesses owned by Advance Publications and the Newhouse family.
It was there that she got her first cable TV operational experience, leading a successful but extremely complex effort to consolidate the billing systems for Advance/Newhouse cable systems. “That was a pivotal moment for me in terms of learning cable operations,” Bergman said. “I got to see cable operations that were very well run and see what made them work and I got to see operations that were struggling. It gave me a wonderful foundation and a great network of resources [in terms of people] that I could tap into.”
In 1994, when Advance/Newhouse and Time Warner Cable merged their cable assets, she went to work for the Time Warner Cable system in Charlotte, N.C. She initially ran business operations and IT and then spearheaded the launch of the high-speed data product Road Runner.
That gave her early experience with new products beyond the traditional video services — Charlotte was only the second Time Warner system to launch high-speed data — and “it was my first time building a team from the bottom up,” she said.
Bergman loved the work at Charlotte, where she was active in a number of community organizations. But when the partnership between Time Warner and Advance/Newhouse was restructured in January 2003, she moved to Syracuse and joined the senior management team to launch Bright House Networks
Besides taking an active role in managing the company with her brother and father, Bergman also became more prominent on an industry-wide level in a number of forums and organizations. She has been active in such issues as the creation of Canoe Ventures and the Clearwire joint venture for wireless services.
She's also been helping women shape careers in the cable industry and has set up a Women's Leadership Circle at Bright House, which is in its fourth year of working with women in mid-level management to develop their skills. As a result, she said, “a number of participants have already moved into higher levels in the company.”