Jill Campbell: Egalitarian Exec


Jill Campbell’s formative years didn’t
provide a lot of clues that she would rise to become executive
vice president and chief operating officer of a major telecommunications
company like Cox Communications — let
alone the recipient of the NCTA’s Vanguard Award for Cable
Operations Management.

Her first career choice was to follow in the footsteps of her
father, a psychology professor who taught counseling and
guidance courses at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
But her dad sent her into a tailspin when she took one of his
classes in graduate school.

“I was a straight-A, type-
A kind of student,” she said.
“And guess what my dad gave
me — a B! I dropped out of
the program; I was so mad.”


Campbell spent the next year
as “the Vanna White” at trade
shows for Phasecom Corp., a
now-defunct headend equipment
manufacturer; and in
1982 she made her way to Cox’s Oklahoma City system as director
of communications, another position that wasn’t exactly
attracting the attention of the company’s hierarchy.

Yet over the last 29 years, Campbell has held a series of
increasingly important positions at Cox’s cable systems,
which serve about 6 million residential and commercial
subscribers. And it was both that experience as well as some
key personality traits that led to her latest promotion, which
was announced in March.

“She’s a very direct person,” said Leo Brennan, Cox’s retiring
COO, who has known Campbell for more than 20
years. “You don’t need to read between the lines with Jill.
She’s tough when she needs to be, but she’s very fair. And at
the same time, she’s got a great sense of humor.”

Pat Esser, president of Cox, added: “She has the ability to
look at an individual and see their strengths and weaknesses
and have a dialogue with them that’s constructive — that
helps them understand the dynamic of being on a team.
That has created a lot of value for this company.”

Despite that rough patch in college, Campbell gives
her father a lot of credit for helping her understand how to
work with people so well. “He taught me to be very egalitarian,”
she said. One of his specialties was drug and alcohol
abuse counseling and, when she was young, guests around
the Thanksgiving table often included recovering addicts
alongside a smattering of graduate students. “He believed
in respect no matter what your station in life is,” Campbell
explained. “And I just grew up that way.”

Her staying power at Cox also has a lot to do with her willingness
to take on more responsibility without conditions,
Esser said. That has made her “the poster child for succession
planning at Cox,” Campbell said with a laugh.

She moved six times in a 10-year period to take on different
roles, and most recently served as senior vice president of
field operations, overseeing systems in Arizona, Arkansas,
California, Nevada, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, New England,
Louisiana, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Virginia.

Her promotions involved some big hurdles. One of her
early bosses at Cox encouraged her to get into cable operations
by obtaining a master’s in business administration,
noting it was a wide-open field for women. So she went to
night school, held down a full-time job and raised a 5-yearold
daughter. She was a single mom at the time. “Now I can’t
even imagine how I did that,” she said. “It was crazy.”

Esser recalled interviewing Campbell for a job in Cox’s
Atlanta corporate offices, as
a division head, back when
she was regional general
manager of the Las Vegas
operations: “We had a great
interview, and at the end of it
she looked at me and said, ‘I
want a seat on the bus. I don’t
care where that seat is; I don’t
care what my role is. I want a
seat on the bus.’ She captured
that hour and a half we’d
spent together in 10 seconds.”

It will take the same kind of drive to tackle her new role
as EVP and COO, which she said is her biggest achievement
but also presents some tough challenges. “The complexity of
our business is daunting,” she said, referring to voice, highspeed
data, voice-over-Internet protocol and mobile phone
service, as well as apps like Cox Connect, which allows consumers
to access Cox services on mobile devices.

One of her biggest challenges relates to Cox’s staff members
in the field: “How do we get them the tools and resources
they need, and the training, to be able to handle all the
different facets of our business?” she said. Campbell also expects
new, innovative approaches to the business to come
“in a very quick way that we haven’t seen in the past. Our
competitors are coming from all sides, and that’s exciting
because now you can look at new partnerships.

“We have to think about our core competencies as well
as when we want to bring in other [partners],” she added.
“And wrapped around that is the day-to-day: how you sell
it, install it and maintain it.”


Amid the promotions, business school and moving, Campbell
also grew her family over the years and today has three
children: a daughter, 26; a son, 17, who’s a junior in high
school; and another daughter, 7.

Campbell is also an active mentor to others, and stresses
the importance of fostering up-and-comers in the business,
particularly women involved with operations. She noted
she has learn lessons from the people she has mentored.

“I learn from everyone I come in contact with in this industry,”
she said. “My dad taught me that you can get a nugget
of wisdom from everybody that you meet. You’ll learn a
lot of life’s lessons by just engaging with people.”