Bridget Baker’s adventurous spirit came naturally. Her father was an attorney with a pioneering outlook who moved his young family of five to Juneau, Alaska, following his Marine Corps service in Japan. “When you grow up in an area as remote as Southeast Alaska, you tend to be externally focused,” Baker said. “I wanted to get out and explore the world.” After graduating from Claremont, California’s Pitzer College, she moved to Washington, D.C., to work as a legislative assistant to U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).
Within a few years, Baker was ready for the private sector. On Capitol Hill, she’d been paying close attention to issues that affected the unique needs of Alaskans; telecommunications was one that appealed to her. When she heard about The Fashion Channel, an early home-shopping cable network dedicated to “shopping from a distance,” she was intrigued. She was soon traveling around the country convincing regional cable operators to launch her network.
“I loved the pioneering entrepreneurs I met in the cable business,” Baker said. “It was exciting to travel all over the U.S. and meet visionaries who were wiring America. I was impressed by their independent spirit and fierce commitment.” After The Fashion Channel was acquired, Baker imagined moving back to Alaska. Then NBC called. The major broadcaster planned to get into the cable news business, challenging the primacy of CNN. Baker was skeptical. Knowing cable operators as well as she did, she didn’t think they would welcome a broadcast interloper on CNN founder Ted Turner’s turf. While in New York for the final interview at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, she ran into a cable executive who challenged her ambivalence: Fred Vierra, then CEO of Denver-based Tele-Communications Inc.’s TCI International unit. “Fred said simply, ‘You’re unemployed, right? Why don’t you give it a whirl and see what happens?’ ” she recalled.
Baker took the job and became a co-founder of CNBC. Her skill negotiating carriage for the business-news network was legendary, and her portfolio grew to include such properties as USA Network, MSNBC, the Olympic Games and others. She went on to become NBCUniversal’s first president of content distribution. In 2012, she was honored with the NCTA Vanguard Award for Distinguished Leadership.
After leaving NBCUniversal in 2013, Baker founded consultancy Baker Media to advise both multibillion-dollar networks and early-stage startups. She also reconnected to her Alaska roots. She was the first and only woman to serve on the board of Alaska’s communications provider, GCI, until its sale to Liberty Interactive in 2018.
Her sense of adventure continues to be fed by her husband and three children. “They lead me down all sorts of interesting paths,” she said.
Baker’s advice to those entering the cable and telecom industry? “Stay flexible,” she advised. “Be ready to learn because the industry moves quickly. When I arrived from Capitol Hill, I stepped into a fast-moving river. If you’ve got an oar in those waters, recognize how lucky you are to be part of this vibrant and successful industry.”