Interviewed by Courtney Madson
Where do you currently work and what’s your current role?
CEO at Country Music Association
Where are you currently located?
Can you briefly describe your journey to your current position?
After college studying government and American history at Georgetown in DC, I worked for a political ad agency and did some stringer TV work. From 1987-1995 I was able to work as a producer and then department head and senior producer at CSPAN. I gained so much experience and was very happy there, but was ready for additional growth. I applied to be Ted Koppel’s producer at Nightline and when I didn’t get that job, I considered where I wanted to be. I decided if it took me three months or three years, I was moving to Nashville.
When I interviewed for the job as Manager of Specials at TNN, I probably wasn’t qualified for it at the time. However, I’m thankful that the hiring manager saw my passion and that my skillset was transferable and that I had a positive mindset. After that chapter in my life, I stayed in Nashville where I went to business school at Vanderbilt on the weekends and had my own production company for a few years. In 2003, I was looking to get back into a more corporate television environment and was able to start my career with Scripps at Shop at Home.
When Scripps bought Great American Country about a year and a half later, I was given the chance to move back over to doing the music side for television. After nine years with GAC, I was able to start my chapter now, as CEO at CMA. In each of those career pivots, I was able to take away some new skillset or experience. They each had personal challenges going into them and scary points, but they each had clear takeaways that led me to the position I’m in now.
What is the best piece of career advice someone has given you?
I had a boss at Scripps who whenever I brought him a business problem, his line was, “Were any small children injured or did any small children die?” And it was, “Of course, no.” “Okay, then what’s the solution?” The question then leads to a four-part question. Were any small children injured, what’s the problem, what’s the solution and why aren’t you doing it? And, those four questions are about trusting your instincts–how do you define the problem and how do you logically work through a problem to get to a solution.
This year’s WICT theme is “Be Fearless.” How do you think “Being Fearless” has helped you achieve the success you have had in your career?
I think the thing about being fearless is it doesn’t just mean you don’t need to take chances because you should take those chances. It means having enough personal confidence in your convictions in who you are as a person. Having a certain amount of confidence in who you are as a person and being grounded in your integrity, regardless of what you do for a living, gives you the strength to be more fearless in your professional life.
What are some challenges you’ve had to face as a woman in a male-dominated television and music industry?
I’ve been fortunate in both that there were really strong women leaders in the generation ahead of me. So, I’ve not had to face a lot of the direct bias that some colleagues of mine a generation ahead of me had. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t seen it or witnessed some of it. I think some of it has to do with me being a big believer in relationships, and how they make a huge difference. When you create your reputation as being someone of integrity, someone who is focused and strong in your beliefs, it will allow you to succeed.
I once had a manager in the music business say to me he loved doing negotiations with me versus one of our competitors because I was just straightforward. When I started my career, I admitted what I knew and what I didn’t know. I tried to create a reputation of being a straight shooter and for having integrity in the business. In fact, many of the people I met and worked alongside in the early Nineties when I started in Nashville, ended up being in the room when I interviewed for the CMA job.
What career advice you would give an emerging leader in the media industry?
When I speak to young people, my number one thing is to find something you’re passionate about because I think your success follows. If you love what you’re doing, then the sixty-hour weeks are going to feel like forty-hour weeks. My second piece of advice is to always remember that all business is about relationships. I think that it’s so key to treat everyone with respect along the way. I think those two things – being a relationship-driven person and also being passionate about what you do – are the keys to success in business today.
What attributes do you think you display as a leader?
I think I’m pretty authentic to who I am as a leader, a manager and a producer and I’m not going to treat anybody any differently. I’m also pretty calm under pressure, and I think it comes from being in live TV for such a long time. When you go into the control room or you go into the business, you have to think about a lot of different scenarios and then you have to sometimes make a decision on the fly based on the best information you have. And so, I think because of that, I’m pretty calm when things get stressful.
What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
I would give myself more perspective or tell myself to have more fun. There are things that I took so seriously back then or problems that I overanalyzed or things I lost sleep over—rather than saying, “In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter.”