TITLE: VP, Marketing, Cox Media
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Buie led an initiative that streamlined Cox Media’s operations and made the unit more efficient; Buie has held 10 positions at Cox with all but two created to specifically solve a business problem or address evolving needs within the company.
QUOTE: “‘How’ you work is more important than the ‘what.’ In other words, accomplishing things on your checklist is an important part to achieving goals. … ‘How’ you do the work is what will set you apart and make you successful.”
— Nicole Buie
Nicole Buie is a triathlete, which means she must be proficient in several sporting disciplines to be successful. Most athletes focus on doing one thing well: they’re strong swimmers or cyclists or they can run for miles without bonking. Triathletes have to be good at all three of those things — at the same time. Buie’s professional career and acumen in the office are similar.
Officially, Buie serves as Cox Media’s vice president of marketing and was recently tapped to serve as an officer of Cox Communications. Unofficially, Cox Media staffers consider Buie to be the company’s “chief culture officer” because of her emphasis on the health and wellness (physically and mentally) of employees. Seven years ago, she implemented Cox Media’s Zen room — a place to think without distraction during hectic days. Today, Cox regularly hosts yoga and mindfulness classes enterprise-wide.
Buie’s team regularly holds meetings in the “Inspiration Bunker,” an office-turned-collaborative work space that she created. It encourages free thinking, creative brainstorming and offers an opportunity to find a new perspective while tackling difficult tasks.
Buie’s emphasis on culture and diversity extends beyond just the space in which her team works. She’s known for energizing her team at all levels through a variety of tactics designed to inspire them personally and professionally. For instance, she’s been intentional about the role of millennials at Cox Media and in the industry, ensuring their voices are heard.
A FORCE OF NATURE IN THE OFFICE
Buie has been named one of Multichannel News’s Wonder Women in 2016, but her co-workers have considered her a wunderkind for years. Billy Farina, senior vice president of advertising sales at Cox Media, was quick to scoop Buie up after parent company Cox Enterprises bought NewCity Communications in 1996.
“Nicole is a force of nature,” Farina said. “She is one of those people you want on your team when you go into battle. At the same time, you want her in your corner during times of calm. She truly is a Wonder Woman, both inside the office and out of it.”
Innovation and improving operations is something Buie has been doing since her first job working at an ad agency in Florida. Later, at NewCity Communications, she led the creation of a buyer’s guide that changed the way local media was purchased in Orlando. It was the first of its kind in Florida, and media sales executives in Orlando and other cities are still using it today.
If Buie’s career has an overriding theme, it would be invention and change. She has held 10 positions with Cox since joining the company 22 years ago and all but two were jobs that were specifically created based on evolving needs or to solve a business problem, she said. Buie has taken on a number of high-priority projects that have reshaped the company and reinforced its brand. For instance, Buie was integral in Cox Media’s “transformation,” launched in 2007, which reshaped the entire company. The multiyear initiative changed 90% of all positions at Cox Media in one way or another.
AGENT OF TRANSFORMATION
The process for Cox Media, the first company to undergo transformation at Cox, included centralizing the division’s traffic and billing systems. The task was arduous and painstaking given the fact that after years of adding legacy systems with every acquisition, each operating division was using different hardware and software. Farina likened the job to keeping an airplane in the air while changing out the engine.
“It was the wild, wild West of cable so standardizing all those systems took time,” Buie said. “The business wasn’t broken — yet. We saw the change happening in traditional media, and we wanted to be ahead of the curve.”
In the end, the reorganization resulted in a more efficient and effective business. But it also meant a reduction in staff. With its well-known family-like atmosphere — the Cox family has long owned the company — staffers tend to stick around for decades. So when it came time to reduce head count, Cox Media gave workers more than a year’s notice. It provided stay bonuses to employees who were asked to support the transition. The reductions were hard, but according to Farina, Buie is not afraid of taking on difficult tasks herself and leading teams through the change.
Buie is proud of the confidence her leaders and peers have in her. “After my pursuit of a promotion to VP, my boss suggested I move out of the research and marketing function and into operations. I thought he was completely crazy,” she said. “I didn’t know the first thing about traffic and billing, or insertion gear, or encoding commercials. But he said I was a strong, effective people leader — and that was enough for him. This is when I learned how important it was to have good people around you, ask good questions … then work your butt off to identify, understand and solve company problems.”
Buie isn’t the kind of executive who stands in front of a room and pitches “her” ideas, according to colleagues. Instead, she empowers her team to come up with ideas and solutions and she will create opportunities for them to explore growth. That doesn’t mean she won’t push staffers to go beyond their comfort zones. She has high expectations. But she also cares about how they’re doing and what they’re doing to expand their professional horizons.
“Nicole has the ability to make everyone around her better at what they do and everyone around wants to be better,” Farina said. “She is constantly finding ways to get more done and at the same time knows exactly when to step back and let those she leads achieve new highs in their own performance.”