Retiring Cox Communications Inc. CEO James Robbins has accumulated a treasure trove of accomplishments during his 20-year tenure at the MSO. But Cox executives say one of his most important legacies will be his longstanding commitment to diversity within the company.
That focus will continue on after Robbins departs at the end of the year through the company’s many executives. Three in particular —senior vice president of legal and regulatory affairs Jim Hatcher, senior vice president and chief people officer Mae Douglas and vice president of materials management Sherryl Love — will be honored by this week by the Walter Kaitz Foundation as “diversity champions” for their outstanding contributions in advancing diversity.
For Cox, diversity isn’t something that’s in vogue today and dismissed tomorrow: It’s embedded in the MSO’s culture as part of its overall business and ethics philosophy, according to Robbins.
“Cox enterprises from the get go recognized that you have to have a workforce that reflects the markets that you’re serving,” he says. “That’s a business imperative that I completely embrace.”
In an effort to achieve those goals, Robbins says he had to surround himself with a diverse group of executives who understood the value of diversity. In 2000, Robbins hired Douglas, who previously had served as an ad-sales executive for the MSO.
Douglas quickly established a set of goals and initiatives that provided a framework by which everyone had the opportunity to work and thrive within the company.
She, along with senior vice president of operations Jill Campbell, established a Diversity Council made up of executives from various departments within Cox to make sure that diversity goals were being implemented companywide.
“One of the things Jim and I decided when I started working with him is that this was an issue that we needed to get greater focus on as an organization,” she says. “I think he and others saw what was going on from a demographic standpoint in our marketplace. And when you look at what we were doing around our initiatives regarding people, suppliers and community relations, there wasn’t an integrated approach. So I think my role was to give the organization a framework in which to do our diversity work.”
Part and parcel to that approach was to focus on certain segments of the business that may not have had an eye on diversity, but were critical in the overall success of the MSO.
One of those areas was making sure that Cox was attracting and hiring minority firms to do business with.
Love has led the MSOs charge in that area for the last three years. Prior to her arrival, the MSO’s supplier diversity record was adequate, spending some $38 million with diversity suppliers. Since then, Love has nearly doubled that amount and is expected to drive nearly $60 million in business with minority companies this year.
Love, who came to Cox after working in the oil and gas industries with such companies as Kender Morgan and Michigan Consolidated Gas, says it was important for the MSO to reach out to organizations such as the National Minority Supplier Development Council to let suppliers know Cox is able and willing to work with them. Cox is a national member of that organization, so all of the MSO’s systems have access to the minority councils in their respective states.
Love says Cox is also very active in supplier diversity programs developed by industry organizations like the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers.
“Minorities are huge consumers of most of the services and products that are bought in the U.S.,” Love says, “and it’s been a passion of mine to make sure that all of our purchasing programs were inclusive of all nationalities.”
Cox also places an emphasis on reaching out to qualified people of color and women to fill positions within its executive ranks. In order to do that, Douglas says it was imperative that all Cox employees understood why diversity was a major business priority. “Jim gave me the challenge early on to make sure we understood why we need to reach out to multiethnic communities — because that was where the largest growth was going to come from,” she says.
As a result, Cox has developed a diversity educational and awareness training procedure. Over the past two years, almost all of the company’s 22,000 employees have gone through the training program.
According to Douglas, the company has increased the number of women and people of color within its executive ranks by 2% from last year.
One of Cox’s most diverse areas is its legal department. Under the leadership of Hatcher, one-third of the department’s 20 attorneys and 50 employees are comprised of people of color, and 70% are female.
Hatcher, a 26-year Cox veteran, became the company’s first attorney in 1993. He says his goal is to get the best and most qualified people to work with him — and that’s meant casting his net beyond traditional outlets to and into more diverse surroundings. As part of that process, the company has reached out to predominantly black college and universities as well as to Hispanic and other ethnic law enclaves.
“In hiring people we never looked to fill quotas, but rather we looked for the best candidate, and made sure that the pool we looked at was diverse,” he says.
Hatcher’s insistence on expanding the pool of potential employees and eventually hiring a diverse workforce earned him a leader award earlier this year from the Minority Corporate Council Association, says Robin Sangston, vice president and assistant general council.
Hatcher prefers the term “inclusiveness” to describe his outreach effort, which embraces not only people of color and women, but a variety of talent that ranges from the college-educated to high-school dropouts to both urban and rural residents.
“If we have attorneys from an outside firm representing us, and we see nothing but white males, we question that and ask why?” he says. “We have worked with those firms to help them recruit and make contacts. We have minority interns every summer, and after they finish with us, we introduce them to other law firms and try to help them get jobs with other law firms.”
While Cox is moving in the right direction with regards to its diversity goals, Robbins says the job is not complete. “It’s an ongoing job — I don’t think we’re in a bad place, but there’s a lot of opportunity in front of us,” he said. “I’m very proud of what our people have done and what our company has done. If our company has contributed to the thought leadership on diversity, then it’s a great way for us to be remembered.”