Pandit Wright was recently named to head up a Silver Spring, Md.-based organization that will program and manage a town center currently being designed for entertainment and education.
The group made a wise choice. Wright has answered the call of duty throughout her life and her tenure in the cable industry. Even though she doesn't live in Silver Spring, Wright felt compelled to shoulder the responsibility after community leaders reached out to her, two years after overseeing Discovery Communications Inc.'s relocation to the city from Bethesda, Md.
“We're going to build a building that will replace the armory, that will have space that can be used for cultural, arts, educational and health programs,” she says.
She's been constructing a strong legacy on the job as well. As DCI's senior executive vice president of human resources and administration, her communications and leadership skills have helped establish the programmer as one of the top 100 best companies to work for, as acknowledged by Fortune magazine. Wright signed on in 1995 as vice president of human resources. Since then, she has been a key member of its senior management team, taking on the challenges inherent to the still-burgeoning Discovery brand — which now stands at 19 networks and a host of other assets — through the establishment of an effective human-resources department that's flavored with her interpersonal skills.
But as Wright intimates, she wasn't necessarily predisposed to be an effective people person. “I was chronically shy,” she says of her childhood in North Carolina and in New York. “I used to read all the time, I never played sports … but I liked to hang around the older people — my parents and all of their friends — and I liked to listen to stories.”
Her family infused her with a strong work ethic and sense of community service that helped prepare Wright for her future. Among her influences: her aunt, the lawyer, educator, activist and children's advocate Marian Wright Edleman.
“My earliest and most consistent mentors were my grandmothers, my aunts and my mother for showing me by example and teaching me continuously all the things that are possible for women to achieve, and for me, as the individual I am, to achieve,” she says. “Their lessons about the obligation to work hard, to use your gifts to help others and to be involved in your community are drilled into my conscience.”
After majoring in English at the University of Connecticut, Pandit moved into life insurance, processing medical claims for Aetna Corp. That's where she began to cultivate the relationship-building skills that would eventually move her to Salomon Brothers International in 1981. Over the ensuing 14 years, she held roles of increasing responsibility in various locales from New York City to London to Tampa, Fla.
Wright eventually made her way to Discovery, starting on the day the company celebrated its 10th anniversary. Despite knowing little about the programmer or cable, she said, the Discovery executives rolled out the red carpet and made her feel a part of the family from day one.
“When I first interviewed at Discovery, I was told that what kept people motivated there was passion for the product,” she says. “As the products continue to change and multiply, it's been my challenge to help keep that a reality.”
Wright says her career path has never been derailed by race or gender discrimination. That's been especially true with Discovery, where 60% of the workforce is female. During her decade at Discovery, Wright has been credited with spearheading the nationally recognized LifeWorks@Discovery initiative. The groundbreaking workforce program, created in 1999 with the support of Discovery CEO Judith McHale, addresses such important issues as family support, health and wellness, flexible hours and community involvement. In fact, Pandit counts McHale as one of her mentors, along with Solomon Bros. International head of operations in London John Sceppa.
Likewise, McHale lauds Wright's leadership efforts in creating an environment for Discovery to attract and keep talented executives: “In her decade of service at Discovery, she led the company's efforts to become nationally recognized as a great place to work, which allows us to attract the most talented workforce.”
Discovery has also afforded Wright the opportunity to travel abroad to help extend the company's brand and outreach efforts. In 2001, Wright ran Discovery's International Networks division in Singapore. Next month, she's headed to South Africa to tour the Soweto Learning Center, a product of the Discovery Channel Global Educational Partnership. She has also enjoyed the rapport and intimacy of people throughout cable through such organizations as Cable In The Classroom, Cable Positive and The Walter Kaitz Foundation. Wright was president of the Cable Television Human Resources Association and has served as a board member of the Women In Cable and Telecommunications Foundation.
Those contributions, combined with her community-based efforts, like those in Silver Spring, have allowed Wright to keep her life goals and accomplishments in perspective. “As you get older, you want to look back on what you've achieved and see that it's just more than I made 'X' amount of dollars,” she says. “That goes back to my belief that you have an obligation to use your gifts in ways that don't benefit just yourself.”