Women of Tech 2014: Making a Difference

Four Execs Who Are Helping to Blaze Cable's High-Tech Path
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With the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo returning to Denver, once known as the “Cable Capital of The World,” Multichannel News is presenting its annual group of women in technology-oriented roles at companies that are helping to define the industry’s next generation of products and services.

This year’s honorees span cable operators as well as some of the cable industry’s key technology suppliers and programming partners. They are, respectively: Robyn Tolva, vice president, product management, Charter Communications; Selina Lo, CEO, Ruckus Wireless; Lisa Hsia, executive vice president, digital, Bravo and Oxygen Media; and Amanda Swistock, senior director, program management, WeatherFX, a division of The Weather Co.

CABLE OPERATOR

ROBYN TOLVA

Vice President, Product Management, Charter Communications

Robyn Tolva isn’t an engineer, but she certainly has to think like one as she serves as the operational orchestrator behind an ambitious all-digital transition that is paving the way for a “Spectrum”-branded product suite that features faster broadband speeds, a larger lineup of HDTV and video-ondemand content and a new, more nimble cloud-based video navigation system. She has played a key role in planning and executing Charter’s all-digital plan, which got off the ground in the summer of 2013 in Fort Worth, Texas, and is now poised for completion by the end of the year.

MCN: What was your first job out of school and your first in the cable industry?

Robin Tolva: They are one and the same. I started working with Prime Cable shortly after the Cable Act of 1992 and went into the very exciting and interesting part of the business that was regulatory accounting analysis. I realized I wanted to stay working in cable when I went on a system visit to Las Vegas. I was in the operation for a couple of days and I thought, I want to stay [in cable], but I want to be in operations.

MCN: Who is your mentor?

RT: I had the good fortune of Ellen Filipiak showing up and running the Atlanta operation at MediaOne (now part of Comcast) after I got there in 1996. There was plenty of female leadership at corporate at Prime Cable in finance and accounting, but here was Ellen, and she was an operations executive and she knew details and metrics and asked incredibly smart questions. I was lucky enough to have access to her and ask for her guidance and advice.

MCN: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced this year with the alldigital project?

RT: It’s easy enough to get people focused on a single market and single project like we had in Fort Worth, but how do you take that and maintain the focus without breaking the operation and execute it across multiple markets at the same time?

MCN: That’s a fine line, isn’t it?

RT: You have to go in with a very solid plan, [but] you can’t be totally married to that plan. It’s going to play out differently. Every plant configuration is different. Every operation runs differently. Every customer base responds differently. Consistency has been our friend … but you’re starting from a different place in every market.

MCN: What are your interests outside of work?

RT: I have a very active family life. I have three kids who are 8, 10 and 13, and that keeps things busy on the home front. They’re at ages now where we have sports we can do together — we can play tennis together and snow ski, and we watch football together.

I love to cook when I have the time. And travel, when it’s not work travel, is a magical thing.

MCN: What advice would you give to women who are working their way up in a male-dominated field?

RT: For non-technically trained folks, women or men, if you want to be successful in this industry, you’re going to need to find a technical partner. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Make sure you understand how things work. You don’t have to be able to do their job, but if you can speak in their language, then it is a more meaningful discussion.

PROGRAMMER

LISA HSIA

EVP/Digital, Bravo and Oxygen Media

When it comes to the technologies of storytelling, it’s hard to look much further than Lisa Hsia. First of all, she’s a life force: Documentarian, seasoned news producer, writer, mom, birdwatcher, world traveller. And, she’s a selfdescribed fast learner with a passion for techniques that advance the methods of telling a good yarn.

MCN: What was your first job out of school?

Lisa Hsia: After I graduated from Harvard, I was living in China, and got a job freelancing for Newsweek magazine. It was when China was just starting to open up, in 1980. I would ride my bike to the office every day, which was literally right next to Tiananmen Square.

MCN: First job in digital?

LH: It was the best out-of-the blue career opportunity ever. It was nine years ago — I was an executive at NBC News when Lauren Zalaznick offered me a life raft to run digital at Bravo. At the time, I knew nothing about digital media. I was overseeing [the] Today show, Dateline and long-form shows for Peacock Productions.

MCN: Do you have any mentors?

LH: Many. Right now, Frances Berwick, who is president of Bravo and Oxygen Media. She’s been so successful with growing TV networks and as a person, she is simultaneously calm and hilariously funny, which makes for a great work environment.

MCN: What’s on the top of your to-do list right now?

LH: Adapting the business to the enormous sea change in multiplatform content consumption and the current sales environment. I believe whoever does that correctly will benefit their audience.

MCN: What do you do when you’re not at work?

LH: My family is active in outdoor activities — hiking in the Rockies, bird-watching in Belize. I have a secret desire to be reborn as David Attenborough.

MCN: Do you have any advice to women wanting to advance their careers in technology, or get into technology?

LH: Three things. Do your job well — strive to be the best. Cultivate relationships. And when there’s an opportunity, go for it. Don’t overthink it. Take action.

— Leslie Ellis

UP AND COMER

AMANDA SWISTOCK

Senior Director, Program Management, WeatherFX

Have you noticed that when an unexpected snow storm hits, the shovels at your local hardware store tend to disappear faster than the drift that’s forming in your driveway? Wouldn’t it be helpful if you were directed to ads that brought you to products that can help you weather the extremities? That’s the sort of thing that WeatherFX, a unit of The Weather Co., is fixated on — using its proprietary data and methods to help marketers deliver targeted, hyperlocal, weather-triggered ads via weather. com, mobile apps, as well as to third-parties, such as Walmart for its new “Saving Catcher” program. Amanda Swistock, whose career has been spent on the leading edge of advanced advertising at companies such as BlueKai, Gator and Right Media (now part of Yahoo), heads up operations and program management for the New York-based WeatherFX team.

MCN: What was your first job out of school?

Amanda Swistock: I was a logistics major and went to Penn State. As part of that program, I did two full-time internships. My first was with International Paper, where I came into evaluate their rate cards against all of their steamship lines. My second internship was with Ethicon Endo, a Johnson & Johnson Co. [focused on medical devices and surgical instruments]. The project I worked on was looking at all of the transportation solutions that were used across J&J and reducing that to be more cost-effective.

Because of that Ethicon Endo experience … I was hired as a planning analyst and buyer. Shortly therein I was transferred to California to help transfer the manufacturing … for a startup they acquired called Gator (the creator of Adware). I stayed through the transition and they sent me to San Jose to get my e-commerce certificate.

MCN: Who is your mentor?

AS: My father. Professionally, I’ve been lucky to have a lot of great exposure to a lot of talented people … but my father is an entrepreneur and watching him create new companies, create jobs, and reinvent himself as industries change was really inspirational.

MCN: What’s on the front burner for you right now?

AS: We’ve committed to some additional off -property distribution channels. We’re kind of laser-focused on our product roadmap. Recently, we brought in a very talented guy by the name of Ed Kozek, who is VP of product and engineering. We are getting aligned with him to work on planning for next year.

MCN: What are your interests and hobbies outside of work?

AS: I spend a lot of time with my family on the weekends and I’m excited that it’s Penn State football time. I’m also a runner. I do some long-distance running. I’ve done a couple of marathons.

MCN: Did you finish them?

AS: I finished them. That’s about all I can say. (Laughs.) If we would’ve ended up at 20 miles, I would’ve done quite well, but it’s that last 6.2, it’s all mental.

MCN: What advice do you have for women who are trying to work their way up in technology oriented fields?

AS: You need to take the initiative. You can’t be a leader in a group and be the go-to person if you’re not taking the initiative and coordinating the troops and getting people engaged.

My dad likes to share quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt with me and the one that always sticks in my head is: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” You have to continue to be aggressive when you’re in this space … and not worry about it if you stumble along the way.

— Jeff Baumgartner

VENDOR

SELINA LO

President & CEO, Ruckus Wireless

Growing up, in Hong Kong, Selina Lo was much more interested in literature and humanities than science. But when she matriculated into the University of California at Berkeley, she decided to try a computer science class — especially after a classmate told her it was easier to find a job as a programmer than a teacher. She liked it, and commenced upon a career in technology that ultimately landed her at one of the hottest wireless companies in the business.

MCN: What was your first job out of school?

Selina Lo: It was a continuation of a job I had in college, doing programming at a real estate firm. I was making $7 an hour, which was enough to go skiing and shopping. My first “real” job was at H-P, as an engineer.

MCN: What was your first job in cable?

SL: I worked for a company that made load balancers, and so it started out that I was selling into Excite@Home. Then when we started Ruckus, I met first with Mike Hayashi at Time Warner Cable. They saw the product, liked the concept, and did a home trial.

MCN: What’s the most important thing about WiFi right now?

SL: That it’s everywhere. Work, home, public places. It’s gained so much momentum that it’s become a companion, and ultimately will be a competitor to cellular.

MCN: What do you do when not building and running Ruckus?

SL: Tennis. I’m a professional student. I have two coaches. If I’m home, I play four hours a week.

MCN: How many frequent-flier miles have you racked up so far this year?

SL: I’m up to 2 million miles on a couple of airlines. I probably fly 250,000 miles a year — lots of international. Business is so global.

MCN: What’s your pet peeve about women in tech?

SL: Same as yours. Not enough of us. It’s totally, shockingly bad. Only 3% of companies have a female CEO! And only 6% of companies that IPO have female CEOs. It’s appalling.

MCN: Favorite book of all time?

SL: Love in the Time of Cholera.

MCN: Any advice to women wanting to advance their careers in technology, or get into technology?

SL: Forget that you are a man or a woman. Go after what your heart is after. Don’t look at the door — look at the opening.

— Leslie Ellis

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