A Real Operator


Whatever happens in 2002, Jill Campbell can count on reaching a career milepost for the second year in a row. Cox Communications made Campbell vice president of operations last fall, responsible for systems servicing one-third of the sixth-ranked cable operator's 6.1 million customers. And in a matter of months, she will celebrate 20 years of employment at Cox, an accomplishment that wouldn't have been considered rare in 1982 when she launched her career there as Oklahoma City communications director, but shapes up that way now in an era where five years in one place or field counts as an extended stretch.

Plenty of opportunities and obstacles have come Campbell's way in the space of two decades. Her run includes general manager assignments in Bakersfield and Santa Barbara, Calif., and a stint as customer operations vice president at Phoenix, the company's largest cable system with more than 600,000 subscribers. Prior to her current role, she served as vice president/general manager of the company's 370,000-subscriber Las Vegas system, where her impact was considerable.

"I've never hit a glass ceiling [at Cox]," Campbell said. "What keeps me around is the culture and people at work here. It's magical, and if we knew what made the culture magical, it wouldn't be magical. But it starts with this company hiring and employing people who hold the same values you hold — that the customer is first, that the customer matters first in everything that gets done. It's not just rhetoric you say. It's what people believe."

She also attributes her success and staying power at Cox to mentors among various units who provided opportunities "where other companies would not have done so." That began a few months into her first Cox experience directing public relations in Oklahoma City. Her boss there, noticing an absence of women in the customer service center, urged Campbell to learn the center's practices and consider a shift of responsibilities. When she agreed and figured out the ropes, she became center manager and started her path to becoming the system's general manager.

"That person put me in a direction that helped my career," Campbell recalled. "The situation demonstrated that I was willing to take a risk, willing to go where positions were open. I never pinched myself that I had the responsibilities I had in Oklahoma City at 21. Maybe I was blind in several respects about that time, but even so, I always felt a safety net around me, a sense that I could grow."

Of all her experiences, Campbell calls her management of the Phoenix and Las Vegas systems over the past five years the most memorable — Las Vegas for returning her to her home town and jump-starting the system's performance while adding digital cable channels, high-speed Internet access and telephony, and Phoenix for altering her work and life ethic.

With banner headlines in the Las Vegas Sun
citing Campbell as the hometown girl making good, she proceeded to lead the system's staff in adding more than 70,000 basic subscribers from 1999 to 2001, while signing up 90,000 digital customers and staving off local DBS marketers who, prior to her coming, had chipped away 10 percent of Cox's subscriber base annually in previous years. Not only did Campbell reduce the annual defection rate to around 2 percent, she more than doubled the employee base (from 400 to more than 900) and brought the system to fifth place on Cox's own in-house installation satisfaction survey.

But it was in Phoenix that Campbell, by then married with children, had a life-altering experience as she came to grips with moving from well-run systems in small- or mid-size markets to a huge system with complex operational practices. "You must not micromanage," she said. "You must set performance standards. You can't tackle everything at once. You must tackle each problem in chunks, put people in charge and trust them. Most important, what I figured out there is that nobody ever lays on their deathbed saying they wanted to work more hours. Working in a 24/7 way really affected my family relationships."

"I learned in my Phoenix time how to work smarter and put balance in my life," Campbell declared. "I'm not Pollyanna. It's not easy all the time to accomplish balance, but you have to make the conscious effort to do it, and I have a husband and kids who remind me a lot of the time of doing that."

The prospect of introducing new services to consumer, be it video-on-demand, interactive TV or home networking, fuels Campbell's energy for her current job. As for women's role in cable, she's convinced that if they're "ready to roll their sleeves up and work, they'll have plenty of doors open to them."

Nonetheless, she feels cable operators and others in the business "must create attractive reasons why women and women of color want to be there. This is more about representation or mix. It's about diversity in thinking what women bring to the party. That's why you create the opportunities."

On a personal level, Campbell gets reminded regularly of what she's produced over nearly two decades. "I didn't have cable when I started at Cox. Now my kids would cut off my right arm to have it."