Business as Usual?

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Hardly. But we're all trying to get on with leading our lives, as our president, New York City's mayor and all of our elected officials have urged us to do since Sept. 11, when terrorists changed the course of life for everyone on this planet.

You can debate whether the House of Representatives, collectively, acted like a "wimp" when it shut down last week in the face of an anthrax scare until you're blue in the face. It really wasn't inspiring to the rest of the nation, and especially to those who live in Florida, New York and now the nation's capital, where anthrax exposures have occurred.

Unlike the House — which shut down for the rest of the week — citizens in those place showed up for work. Many wore rubber gloves to perform the once-mundane task of opening the mail.

To add to the jitters, all of this comes as the U.S. economy was already in deep decline. Clearly, these are trying times for American business managers, who need new skill sets to calm mounting employee fears while trying to keep the cogs of business running smoothly.

That's hard, because it's not business as usual. Even what we report on at Multichannel News
has changed radically, with reports about the Federal Communications Commission refusing to accept hand-delivered and messenger-delivered filings at its headquarters in southwest Washington due to fears of a possible anthrax outbreak.

When I scan the headlines of our daily-news Web site, multichannel.com, I'm struck by the strange mix of stories we've reported.

Big headlines — like the fact that Excite@Home Corp.'s cable partners have finally come to its rescue — suddenly seem a little ho-hum, even though the company was hanging on by its fingernails just the week before.

Instead, stories about people now seem far more interesting. Take the tale of Teresa Elder — AT&T Broadband's Western Division president — who resigned last week to devote more time to her family.

Elder, who was responsible for some 6.5 million cable subscribers and 15,000 employees, was named to that post in June 2000. Prior to that, she was vice president of MediaOne Group Inc.'s Western division.

Elder's son has cystic fibrosis, and she said that was a factor in her decision. But so were the events that ensued after Sept. 11.

"I've been working straight at a pace like this for about 19 years," she said. "It was just a great time for me to really re-look at these priorities. This just felt like an absolute good time to do this."

Elder is not the only executive to come to that life-changing decision. Charter Communications Inc. senior vice president of marketing Mary Pat Blake threw in the corporate towel several weeks ago, after her boss — former MSO president Jerry Kent — left the company.

Blake — an industry leader as well as a star within Charter — also said that the events of Sept. 11 were key in her decision to leave. She was to co-chair the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing's annual summit, but instead will write a book and head up a foundation.

Industry consolidation has already led to the loss of "a generation of able cable operators," one veteran industry executive said wistfully last week. Pile the loss of innocence most Americans now feel on top of that, and watch more folks make some serious quality-of-life decisions that will affect the work force.

No manager was trained with how to deal with terrorists destroying the World Trade Center, or for anthrax attacks, and, God knows, whatever comes next.

But I would like to think that the companies that somehow don't panic over their own shrinking bottom lines — and that reassess their own values — might have a better chance of keeping their executive ranks intact for what has got to be a better and safer future.

It's just a thought.

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