As it does every year, the Cable and Telecommunications Human Resources Association will honor the leaders within its field at its 2013 Symposium and Awards Luncheon at Discovery Communications headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., on May 2. The awards ceremony, honoring Pat Langer, NBCUniversal executive vice president of human resources, the Leadership Excellence Award winner; Cox California’s People Service Team, the Team Innovator Award winner; and Angie Mazeres, senior director of human resources at Bright House Networks, the Aspiring Leader Award winner, is co-sponsored by Multichannel News.
PAT LANGER: LEADERSHIP EXCELLENCE AWARD WINNER
Pat Langer is living proof that you can go home again, even if everything is different — and you’re tasked with the responsibility for overseeing the change.
Langer “grew up at NBC” in the 1990s, then spent a decade at Lifetime Networks before returning to NBCUniversal as executive vice president of human resources to handle the daunting transition of ownership from General Electric to Comcast. Her work on that front earned her this year’s CTHRA Leadership Excellence Award. Langer’s rise to the top of the HR field is unusual because she started as a litigator at several New York firms — a field where confrontation, not collaboration, is the order of the day. She realized that she loved employment law “because I could be proactive and help resolve issues before they get to litigation,” she said. “I also really enjoyed dealing with people.”
Her first job as in-house counsel at Pan American Airlines led in 1988 to a junior law job at NBC. There, she worked her way up to head of the employment law group. She found TV exciting not because of its glamor, but because of the constant challenges of dealing with a diverse workforce — creative, executive, technical, sports and news. When Carole Black left KNBC in Los Angeles to take over Lifetime, she called Langer and said she had “the perfect job” for her. Despite Langer’s skepticism, Black was right — her job as Lifetime’s executive VP of legal business affairs and human resources combined two roles and helped her understand HR beyond the legal perspective. She left when Lifetime changed hands in 2009.
Langer, 57, had to decouple NBC from GE on the HR side, “rebuilding the recruiting group, building a new learning center from scratch, starting new systems” while incorporating legacy NBC employees, legacy Comcast employees and new hires.
“NBCUniversal is so vast in every way,” she said. “This was more like undertaking a massive startup.”
It’s also a global operation, so one of Langer’s first steps was to gather the company’s HR leaders to develop a comprehensive communication strategy that would make clear “our mission and our vision.” Another big part of the transition process was creating a new culture, Langer said. “It is still evolving, but a cultural change in a situation like this takes time.” It also takes leadership, which is what Langer continues to bring to the equation. She said her strongest traits — being calm and methodical, being a good listener but also decisive — have been well-suited to the task.
“This has definitely stretched me out so I’ve grown as a leader,” she said.
COX CALIFORNIA PEOPLE SERVICES TEAM: TEAM INNOVATOR AWARD WINNER
Cox California’s People Services Team did not win the CTHRA Team Innovator Award for 2013 because of one major accomplishment. It won for its aggressive and ambitious program of consolidating Cox’s separate cable systems in Orange County and San Diego into one enterprise.
The consolidation required the team to do “a lot of transactional work to get the human resources team united, overcoming the cultural differences from the two systems,” Cox vice president of people services Sharon Smith said.
The team’s goal was to align its initiatives with Cox’s local and national business strategies. It took a four-pronged approach: igniting its front-line leadership; enhancing communication channels; uniting its Diversity Councils; and developing a peer-to-peer rewards and recognition program. Smith, a 20-year Cox veteran, said that while there was success across the board, “first and foremost I’m proud of our emphasis on front-line leadership.” She said that this concentrated effort focused on how vital the front-line supervisors are as a linchpin to the front-line employees, and thus to the customers.
“Creating a change there — if those supervisors are connected and informed and given the right tools — can have the most impact and translate to great customer relations for Cox,” she said. The company identified administrative duties that consume those workers’ time and began seeking ways to increase efficiency and maximize impact. The California team also created a Leadership Hub to provide information; Leader Roundtables; and training that included “Smart Bytes” webinars, or short, single-topic training programs on subjects such as “Dealing with Difficult People” and “Communicating Non-Defensively.”
“We don’t have the luxury of bringing everyone into the same room, so this virtual concept has gone over well,” Smith said.
ANGIE MAZERES: ASPIRING LEADER AWARD WINNER
“Your daughter is really bossy.” That was the teacher’s complaint to Angie Mazeres’ mother when Angie was in second grade. Mazeres, a first-generation Cuban-American from Tampa, Fla., said she wasn’t being “bossy,” she was merely showing an ambition and outspokenness not deemed appropriate for Cuban-American Catholic school girls back then.
Now that Mazeres, 45, is all grown up, those traits are deemed admirable — and they’ve helped earn the senior director of human resources for Bright House Networks this year’s CTHRA Aspiring Leader Award. “I try to balance being collaborative with taking the lead, but even when I’m going out with friends, I’m the one organizing things,” Mazeres said. At work, those skills are necessary when she is overseeing the company’s Award of Excellence trip in Tuscon, Ariz., for the company’s employee winners and their guests. The affable Mazeres learned much of her people skills and developed her “ask me and I’ll do it” work ethic via a non-traditional career path that started in her father’s Florida restaurant. After an early marriage that didn’t work out and the death of her father, she went back to school and landed a job at Nielsen.
After five years, she switched careers again and taught for a year before deciding that her listening and problem-solving skills would be ideal for employee relations. She joined Bright House as a generalist in 2004 and has gradually taken on increasing responsibility, working on issues like benefits, compensation and recruiting. Her communications skills led to her being put in charge of the company’s “outer networks,” whose HR departments now all report to her.
“I believe in the value of meeting with people face to face,” she said.
If only her second-grade teacher could see her out there now, listening, responding and leading without being bossy.