Hurdling Obstacles1/25/2004 7:00 PM Eastern
Jenny Alonzo made headlines in November 2002 by becoming the first Latino woman to head up the cable advocacy organization, the National Association for Multi-ethnicity in Communications.
While the achievement was groundbreaking, it was another example of Alonzo's ability to excel against the odds through perseverance and a no-nonsense work ethic. Alonzo has been able to successfully handle her high-profile position at NAMIC along with her demanding duties at Lifetime Television, where as vice president of production and inventory operations, she oversees all aspects of the network's on-air promotional inventory.
During her 10-year stint at the women's-targeted network, Alonzo has been credited with helping develop and launch such key initiatives as "Stop Breast Cancer for Life" and "Stop Violence Against Women", as well as carve out promotional support for the channel's top-rated shows The Division and Strong Medicine. She also has been instrumental in developing the multi-million dollar promotional campaigns behind network spinoffs, Lifetime Movie Network and Lifetime Real Women.
Under Alonzo's watch, Lifetime became the first cable network to "squeeze" credits at the end of shows in an effort to create more promotional and ad sales opportunities.
Alonzo has hurdled every obstacle put in front of her during her 38 years. Born in the Dominican Republic, Alonzo's family settled in Queens when she was a young girl, forcing her to quickly learn the language and culture of her new New York City home. Even then, Alonzo set very demanding standards for herself.
"I always had very high dreams coming from a family that didn't have much," she said. "I wanted to be a pilot; I didn't want to be the stewardess. For me, it wasn't good enough to be in the field. I had to be on top of the field."
She enrolled locally at St. John's University in 1983, where she cultivated her TV skills while simultaneously tending to her ill father and learning-disabled younger brother at home.
While at St. John's, Alonzo interned at the advertising and promotion unit of NBC's New York flagship station WNBC. "Once I started working in that department I realized that they were a mini ad agency within the organization and I fell in love with the people and the process."
After graduation, Alonzo joined NBC ad shop Lord, Geller, Federico, Einstein as a receptionist. "It was a way to get in, and three months later I became an assistant to an account executive," she recalled.
However, after the account team was dissolved in 1988, Alonzo was forced to swim in uncertain waters and take stock of her life. "I realized at that point that you should not take things for granted, and to work as hard as you can," she said. "My father had passed away two-and-one-half months earlier, so at the age of 23, I found myself the head of the household."
Alonzo shifted to other accounts within the company before being offered a sales assistant job at then Lifetime Medical Channel. But rather than move into the still unproven cable arena, Alonzo took what was initially a part-time position at her former employer, WNBC in New York. "I decided to take a chance and took a job that was for two months versus a job situation that was permanent with Lifetime Medical because I really wanted to end up back on the promotion side," she said.
That part-time position turned into a five-year gig for Alonzo, who eventually ascended to the position as manager of on-air promotion at the station. But Lifetime hadn't lost her number and came calling again in 1995, this time proffering its director of operations for creative services position.
"After talking to them and not having to worry about [network] sweeps anymore, it became very appealing," said Alonzo, who had never subscribed to cable before taking the job at the distaff network.
Even though she has risen through the broadcast and cable ranks, Alonzo feels that being Latino and female closed some doors to other opportunities. Those setbacks, though, only made her work that much harder to achieve her goals and to absorb as much as she could from executives around her.
"I certainly didn't have a father or a mother that was a corporate executive to tell me what to look for or to tell me to seize the moment and opportunities," she said. "I depended tremendously on my bosses who were all wonderful people."
RETURNING THE FAVOR
And she hasn't forgotten where she came from. Throughout her career, Alonzo said she's always found time to mentor others trying to get into the business. Alonzo said she's proud of bringing other minorities into the broadcast and cable arenas: "It's important to me that I do that because others did it for me."
Her position as president of NAMIC also has provided her with a platform to help other minorities achieve their telecommunication-industry goals. NAMIC, via her guidance, has continued to successfully build its Executive Leadership Development Program, which helps train minority executives for upper-management positions.
The outspoken Alonzo also has spearheaded an increase in Hispanic cable executives within NAMIC, and presided over the launch of a new NAMIC chapter in South Florida.
Alonzo attributes most her success to a "wonderful support system," which includes her mom, husband and two "resilient" pre-teen daughters, as well as her "phenomenal" colleagues at Lifetime.
As for the future, Alonzo intends to stay busy for as long as she can. "I'm very restless … I feel that life is too precious to waste, and I refuse to get complacent.
"My dad died at a very young age, and I know there was so much more that he wanted to do. I want to do as much as possible because I don't know when my last breath is going to be."