Cable: Doing Well, Can Do Better

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The following is an excerpt of comments made last week by Que Spaulding, former Starz Encore Group LLC president of distribution, at a National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications breakfast at the National Show in New Orleans.

I worked in corporate America for 40 years and I remember well the bad old days.

I remember the days when employment agencies and search firms routinely coded job applications in such a way that the prospective employer would know in advance if the candidate were black or Hispanic.

If they were black or Hispanic, the job would somehow disappear before the candidate even showed up for the interview.

I remember the bad old days at American Express when, in 1971 the board rocked the company to its foundation when it named a Jewish executive to run the credit-card division. The thinking among long time employees was that the Board had just driven a stake through the heart of the last outpost of Wasp pomposity. Fortunately for American Express, they were right.

Who then could have imagined that 30 years later, the company would realize record financial results under the leadership of a black CEO named Ken Chenault?

Thanks to the efforts of organizations like NAMIC, the Kaitz Foundation, Women in Cable [and Telecommunications] and similar organizations in other industries, the bad old days have been relegated to the trash bin of history.

In the most recent NAMIC survey, completed in 2002, minorities representing 29% of the U.S. population held 7% of the cable industry positions at the senior vice president and above levels. Not good.

For Hispanics, the numbers are horrendous. Hispanics represent 13% of the U.S. population but only 1% of senior management positions, down from an anemic 2% in 1999.

And 35% of the senior positions are in human resources, which means a dearth of minorities in such key areas as finance, operations and marketing.

Not a good story. But before rushing to any conclusions, I decided to look at other industries to see how we were doing on a relative basis.

When I looked at the financial-services industry, I was amazed at how much better they do in terms of diversity at senior management levels. Of the nine largest financial-service companies in the U.S., 3 have a black CEO: Franklin Raines at Fannie Mae, Stanley O’Neal at Merrill Lynch and Ken Chenault.

Not incidentally, each has done an outstanding job, leading their respective companies to record financial performances.

This underscores something NAMIC has been saying for 20 years: diversity is not only good morality, it is also good business. Also, the most prominent black CEO in our industry, Dick Parsons, came to us from the financial-services industry.

They also appear to be doing a much better job than us at other senior management levels.

How do they do it? They have a strategy.

Let me review one element of their strategy. Over the past two months, companies have been visiting college campuses to interview candidates for jobs. Let’s look at a scorecard comparing the financial-services industry’s college recruitment efforts with our own.:

  • Howard University: FS companies 37, cable 0
  • Morehouse College: FS companies 42, cable 2 (Turner and The Weather Channel)
  • Florida A&M: FS companies 10, cable 0
  • Florida Int’l (56% Hispanic): FS companies 22, cable, 1 (MTV Latin America)
  • U. of New Mexico (largely Hispanic): FS companies 11, cable 0
  • UCLA (15% Hispanic): FS companies 15, cable 0

The financial services industry is executing on a strategy that has been understood by every Major League Baseball general manager for 125 years: if you want to have a good major league team tomorrow, you had better have good minor league players today.

In cable, we have both an emotional commitment and a financial commitment to diversity at the senior management level. What I think we lack is a strategic commitment.

As always, I remain confident that this great industry will step up and get it done.