TITLE: General Counsel, Compliance Officer, SVP of Government Affairs, General Communication Inc.
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Before joining GCI in 2003, practiced law with the law firm Drinker Biddle in Washington, D.C., representing telecom clients.
QUOTE: “I’m very fortunate to work for a company in an industry where there are opportunities to innovate and help people in a geographic space where there are many challenges.”
When Tina Pidgeon was weighing legal career options while studying at the University of Virginia, she knew what she didn’t want.
“At age 24, 25, I didn’t know about corporate law. I knew, though, that I didn’t want to be a litigator,” she said, with a laugh.
But during the summers of her study, she had opportunities to observe and participate in “the intersection of law, policy and technology.” That path brought her to the Washington, D.C., office of Philadelphia-based law firm Drinker Biddle, where she represented telecom clients before the Federal Communications Commission and state regulatory commissions. One such client was Alaska’s General Communication Inc., which she joined in 2003.
That decision has ultimately taken her family — her husband, former Comcast communications executive Tim Fitzpatrick, and their two young daughters — on a journey to the nation’s largest state. She still hasn’t gotten accustomed to the sun-filled summer nights.
Pidgeon manages GCI’s 20-person legal and regulatory department and the attendant efforts of outside law firms and consultants. As a member of GCI’s seven-person senior management team, she has also helped guide GCI into an array of new businesses as it broadens its infrastructure and its lead role in Arctic business development.
ABOUT SERVING ALASKA
Pidgeon said GCI’s mission remains the same as when it was founded 30 years ago: “Through competition, and a mix of innovation and disruptive technology the company aims to better and more effectively serve the people of Alaska. That’s GCI’s history and its mantra to this day.”
Ron Duncan, GCI co-founder, president and CEO and Pidgeon’s boss, said that she came in “under di_ cult circumstances” — a 2010 plane crash took the lives of her predecessor, Dana Tindall, and the GCI executive’s 16-year-old daughter, as well as longtime Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and others. “It wasn’t easy. She had to solidify the department,” Duncan said.
Since then, “she’s grown tremendously from being a general counsel. She continues to oversee our legal and regulatory affairs, but she’s expanded her responsibilities to risk management and strategy.”
Pidgeon has helped GCI to expand its wireless business and to bring to its portfolio six TV stations, including one in GCI’s home market of Anchorage, and myriad forms of broadband.
A national specialist on universal-service policy, Pidgeon has guided GCI through FCC proceedings to help preserve essential communications and worked with Alaska’s governor and congressional delegates to restructure its proposed reform to account for critical needs in remote areas. She also directed a team that secured more than $40 million in capital funding to deploy 3G and 4G services throughout Alaska.
Pidgeon played an integral role in securing an $88 million federal broadband stimulus loan/grant for the initial funding of GCI’s TERRA network that brings terrestrial broadband to 70 remote, economically challenged communities in western Alaska. The network spreads across thousands of miles, the equivalent of 20-plus states.
“For many people living in remote, tiny communities, GCI is the only connectivity they have to their families, government services and health care,” she said. “You can’t get to many of these people by roads and traditional means.”
Frozen tundra is one of many “logistical challenges” GCI faces in servicing Alaska.
“We’re building towers on mountains. The construction season is only 90 days. Heavy equipment is lifted in by helicopters,” because it would sink when the tundra thaws. “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
Pidgeon is also active in cable interests in the lower 48 states. She expects to join the American Cable Association board in June. And she regularly finds her way back to Washington, D.C., where she has met five times with Jason Ryan, manager of rights clearances and standards and practices at TV One, via a Women in Cable Telecommunications mentorship program.
“Her perspective and insights are invaluable,” Ryan said. “The mentorship program has an end date, but we plan on keeping our relationship going past that.”
Pidgeon also has developed a relationship with Marci Burdick, executive vice president of broadcasting at Schurz Communications, stemming from retransmission renewal discussions for KTUU, the NBC affiliate in Anchorage.
“Negotiations are always challenging, and GCI had just bought KTVA, the CBS affiliate,” Burdick said. “We realized our companies were similar, that we are both relatively small with holdings in cable and broadcast, and experience challenges and opportunities that exist in the greater media space.”
She called Pidgeon “very fair, and a great strategic thinker,” and they continue to converse over non-competitive issues and have seen each other at Notre Dame football games. Pidgeon is an undergraduate alum, while Schurz is headquartered in Mishawaka, Ind.
BUSY YEAR FOR RETRANS
For GCI, 2014 was very busy on both sides of the carriage negotiating table. Before year-end, GCI completed deals for continued carriage of some of its TV stations; for Discovery Communications, as part of NCTC; and a retrans pact with Chena Broadcasting- owned WTVF, the NBC affiliate in Fairbanks. “It was good to get things done. NBC has the Super Bowl,” Pidgeon said.
In 2015, GCI’s gaze will center on the imminent closing of its acquisition of Alaska Communications’s 33% stake in the companies’ Alaska Wireless Network.