TITLE: Senior VP, General Auditor and Global Risk Officer, Comcast
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Transforming Comcast’s audit team; bringing experiences from HP and Dell to the media and technology industry.
QUOTE: “Don’t underestimate what you’re capable of and how much energy you really have.”
— Cindi Hook
Cindi Hook says the best advice she ever got came from her father, a football coach at the high school she attended. “A ship in the harbor is safe,” he would say, “but that’s not what ships are built for. “
Hook has taken that advice into her role where she transformed the Comcast internal audit team, including helping to build the NBCUniversal financial audit team after Comcast merged with the company in 2011. As senior vice president, general auditor and global risk officer, she now heads an internal audit team that assesses the financial, operational and regulatory risks of all of Comcast’s new and potentially future businesses, including the cybersecurity risks.
“We have 120 people around the world that engage in all parts of the business to make sure that we are identifying and managing the risks of the operation, the financial piece, the regulatory piece,” she said.
Hook said of joining Comcast in 2010: “We had to build the whole NBCUniversal practice because when we acquired NBCUniversal we did not get any of the audit staff, so we literally had to build the practice from scratch.”
“Cindi has done an exceptional job transforming the company’s audit team while maintaining the strong financial controls and high operating standards required to run the business,” David Cohen, Comcast senior executive vice president and chief diversity officer, said.
FINDING ‘ASSURANCE’ AT COMCAST
Actually leaving her own safe harbor was part of the attraction of making the move to one of the nation’s largest cable companies.
“When I was first contacted by Comcast, the fact that they were doing the NBCUniversal deal made the opportunity more attractive,” she said.
Part of Hook’s job is “assurance,” which sounds touchy feely, but is instead another kind of hands-on operation.
“We have basic policies and procedures, whether they are internally mandated or externally mandated, and we go out as a team and assure management, to the degree that we can, that people are doing what they’re supposed to do to meet those requirements,” Hook said.
She concedes they “don’t always have the best news for people,” but added, “I think the general thought process here at Comcast is that we want to do everything we can to make the business better and that we would rather know where those opportunities are than not know about them.”
“Cindi is a terrific leader,” said Comcast chief financial officer Mike Cavanagh, calling the award “a tribute to her exceptional accomplishments.”
Most kids don’t grow up wanting to be a global risk and assurance officer and Hook was no exception.
STEPPING INTO ACCOUNTING
She is a classically trained ballet dancer and danced professionally in high school.
“Luckily, my parents said, ‘you have to get good grades because this ballet thing might not actually work out,’” she said, “so I went to college on a ballet and academic scholarship.” But when she suffered a “pretty serious injury” she “stumbled” — her word — into an accounting class. “I liked it and did really well at it and knew it was something where I would always be able to support myself,” Hook said.
She graduated from Brigham Young with a degree in accounting — she still dances, she said, but only in the kitchen.
She went the “typical route,” she said, joining accounting firm Price Waterhouse.
While, had things gone differently, she would have happily worn leotards to work — on her own terms — she said the “super-structured” accounting firm, where women had to wear pantyhose to work every day, “kind of bothered me.”
It was a time when computers were changing the world but the partners didn’t quite get it, she said. “I was getting my work done a lot faster and I was getting a lot of, ‘why aren’t you getting more billable hours?’”
Hook went back to school, got her MBA in finance, and moved to companies where they clearly got computers, Hewlett Packard (for eight and a half years) and then Dell (more than a dozen).
She said HP was a “really well-oiled machine,” so she could bring the discipline and process that Dell needed, but to an environment that was “high-growth and a lot of fun.”
She had 11 or 12 different jobs at Dell in all facets of the company, the last one in audit; she became known as a “fixer.”
Then Comcast called. “The product is really relatable and after meeting with Michael Angelakis, who was CFO at the time, and the rest of the management team, it was a pretty easy decision.”
About half of Hook’s leadership team are women. “We try to attract some of the best talent that we can either inside the company or from outside the company, develop them and then send them out to the business.
“So, I don’t look for women in particular, but I think what happens is that when you are a woman running an organization, you tend to attract women because they want that role model. They feel like they can work for somebody who, maybe, gets them, someone that they can relate to a little more closely.”
Asked who has helped her along the way, she points to a supportive husband, as well as Pedro Farah at Dell — now a top Walmart executive. “He pushed me really hard, like literally sometimes to tears. But I think that was an inflection point in my career. He opened my eyes to what I was really capable of.”
Angelakis is another. “He was really supportive, spent a lot of time with me and helped me navigate.”
Her father had another saying, one that works for a ballet dancer forced to move to another beat. “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” That, she said, is all about optimism and always looking for how you can make things better.