DBS Honors DirecTV's Diversity Efforts

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NEW YORK — DirecTV Inc. global chairman Eddy Hartenstein last Thursday night accepted T. Howard Foundation honors for his company's efforts to foster diversity in the workplace by hiring and promoting women and minorities.

Hartenstein, who endured a round of roasting from colleagues before taking the stage, urged attendees to make more of an effort to diversify "not just because it's good business, but because it's the right thing to do."

DirecTV president Odie Donald is spearheading a company-wide diversity program this year, Hartenstein said. The initiative will shift the focus "away from quotas into making diversity an integral part of our business."

Black Entertainment Television executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing Curtis Symonds congratulated the foundation for reaching its $500,000 fundraising goal through the dinner. It also has commitments to place 25 interns this summer — more than twice last year's number. But given the number of programmers and vendors in the industry, the total could be much higher, Symonds said.

He also wondered whether the money raised by fundraising dinners was really in support of the cause at hand, or a way for industry insiders to celebrate one of their own.

"The hard question here is whether people are really here to honor Eddy or to support the T. Howard Foundation," said Symonds.

Later that evening, Symonds acknowledged that DirecTV was doing a better job of placing minorities and women in top positions than he had realized.

Hartenstein sits on the board of trustees for the foundation, and two other DirecTV executives are on its board of directors, a commitment not seen from direct-broadcast satellite rival EchoStar Communications Corp.

Diversity is just one of the issues that bears monitoring as the DBS industry eyes consolidation and a possible change in leadership. DirecTV parent company Hughes Electronics Corp. is likely to be sold or merged with another company in the future. Candidates eyeing a possible deal include News Corp. and EchoStar.

At the SkyForum conference held here last Thursday, Hartenstein and News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch offered no solid answers on the status of their merger talks.

In a keynote speech, Murdoch hinted that he still covets DirecTV, but he said his Sky Global Partners worldwide satellite operations would remain strong without such a deal.

Hartenstein said he still expects Hughes to be involved in a "transforming transaction," adding that such a deal would be announced "sooner, rather than later … There is a transaction out there that would give all parties involved what they want."

And though recent media reports paint a deal between Hughes and News as all but dead, Hartenstein said, "No one is ruling anyone out."

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