NEW YORK — The lunch is certainly tasty at the annual Multichannel News Wonder Women fete at the New York Hilton each year, but most people don’t come for the food.
They come for the stories and the insights, such as this pearl from Univision executive vice president of content distribution Sarah Madigan: “When I learned that I received this award, I thought, this award is pointedly not for a small-town Texas lesbian who sits at her desk at 11 p.m. on a Wednesday, eating peanut butter out of a jar while reading a 250-page Cox agreement and answering the phone with the word ‘dude.’ ”
Oh but it is, especially if, like Madigan, she is the kind who brings agreements like those into fruition.
Honoree Tina Pidgeon, the general counsel at General Communication Inc. in Anchorage, Alaska, came with her husband, Tim Fitzpatrick, and their two daughters. She fought back tears in relating that Dana Tindall, her predecessor at GCI, had died in an August 2010 plane crash, along with Tindall’s 16-year-old daughter and U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.
Tindall had hired Pidgeon to run GCI’s Washington, D.C., office, and had said Pidgeon would someday succeed her.
“It was hard, suddenly leaving family and friends, taking a new role, and leading a grieving department,” Pidgeon said. “How could I embrace a professional opportunity that came out of this wrenching event? I had to be brave.”
Susette Hsiung, EVP at Disney Channels Worldwide, took risks in her career, while also hedging her bets by studying for an MBA degree at New York University at night “in case this whole television thing didn’t work out.”
Her mom had urged her to do so, noting that the only Chinese person on her TV was local NYC newswoman Kaity Tong.
“Do what excites you,” Hsiung said. “Try new things, don’t be afraid to take risks, value diversity and listen to your mother.”
Judi Lopez, the distribution EVP from Fuse Media (NUVOtv and Fuse), injected a different dose of diversity. “Hello everyone. Welcome to my quinceanera,” she joked. “The Univision table’s cracking up over there: 16% percent of you know what I’m talking about.”
Several honorees were lawyers, including two Comcast executives — senior vice president of of legal regulatory affairs Lynn Charytan and SVP of federal government affairs Melissa Maxfield — who have stayed superbusy shepherding mergers with NBCUniversal and Time Warner Cable to completion. Maxfield expressed sympathy for her dad, surrounded by women in the form of herself, her sisters and her mom. The only male companions he had were the family’s six dogs, “but of course my sisters and I named them.”
Jennifer Hightower, the general counsel at Cox Communications, cherished a quote a friend handed her the day she returned to work after having twins — a quote about how “having it all” was “a lingering cliché of the 80’s Yuppie feminism.” Not so, Hightower said, if you are lucky enough to work “at a company and in an industry that values individual contributions, the advancement of women leaders and the ever present desire for life balance.”
EVP Sandra Kapell runs human resources for Cablevision Systems, and she asked rhetorically how many times HR executives had been honored at events like this. “You can comfortably say zero, that’s OK,” she said, to laughs. This after opening with a story about a kitchen incident at home the night before in which cookies her daughter was baking melted in the oven. “My first lesson is: Cookies need flour.”