4 Questions for the 2019 Red Letter Recipients

Congratulations to Tina Simmons, Marilyn Altman, Angela Cannon, Susannah Balish, Shana Keith, and Sarah Cheatham, WICT Southeast’s 2019 Red Letter Award Recipients

We recognize these women for their outstanding achievement and leadership and believe they personify the WICT Touchstones of Leadership and actively enhance the perception of the cable telecommunications industry through their community and professional involvement.

Leading up to our Red Letter Awards, WICT Southeast blog volunteer, Ana Adler asked these six women four questions so you can get to know them better. It’s not too late to get tickets to the 2019 Red Letter Awards, click HERE for more information.

#wictse_rla

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“I never lose, I either win or I learn”
A conversation with Red Letter Honoree Tina Simmons.

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Name: Tina Simmons

Location: Atlanta

Where do you currently work and what’s your current role?SVP, Human Resources, Central Division, Comcast Cable

 You are the recipient of the Inspiration Award Woman of the Year. What does getting this award mean to you?

First of all, because I was involved with the vetting of candidates for these awards last year, I’ve realized how tough the competition and I was absolutely blown away by winning this myself this year. It is such an honor and I say that because WICT, particularly the WICT Southeast chapter, they’ve really got their act together. They have incredible programming; they’ve got incredible leadership. So, I’m excited about it and I’m tickled pink to have this opportunity.

As women, we often find it difficult to give ourselves props for our accomplishments so I’m going to ask you to do just that. Why do you think you were selected to receive this award?

I think I was selected because I do live the Inspire touchstone. I really do open up my day, open up my heart, open up my mentorship to mentees far and wide. I do this every day. I don’t have a day where I’m not connecting to at least one mentee to talk about their career, to talk about their family, to talk about their health, to talk about whatever happens to be weighing on them, and to give words of encouragement, to give words of counsel, to give words of correction sometimes, and to give words of affirmation. People will tell you my mentee network stretches far and wide. I am humbled by the award but I’m not surprised because I strive to do that every day.

This year’s theme is Inspire and Others will Follow. Is there one conversation, piece of advice one moment in time, that you go back to that inspires the decisions you make as a leader?

It’s probably multiple conversations I’ve had with one of the nomination writers, a senior female leader here at Comcast. Throughout my career she has always been very honest with me and, even though I think the word transparent is overused, she has been. She is one who has given me counsel when things aren’t going so great and counsel when things are going great. This leader has always been consistent and someone that I can depend on and I’ve always appreciated her honesty regardless of the situation.; and she’s inspired me to do the same. With my mentees and direct reports and teams I get the opportunity to say, “Wow, that was a phenomenal job you did!” But sometimes I have to talk about another way a situation could have been handled, and this leader that I’m thinking of is one who modeled that behavior to me and she inspires me to do the same. I’ve learned you don’t gain anything by being dishonest or not sharing feedback. She’s taught me that it’s how you deliver the feedback that matters. Whether it be good or bad. Over time she’s emulated the behavior but each time there has also been some specific advice or some counsel that helps me become not just a better leader, but a better human.

What advice do you give yourself when you are taking a risk or stepping out of your comfort zone? Why is it important to do so?

I have to give myself a pep talk. Number one: I start with, “If things go left what’s the worst that could happen?” Number 2: “What do I have to lose by trying?” At least I can feel better that I took action. Because I’m action-oriented anyway, doing nothing isn’t an option for me. Thinking back on my career, my life, every time I took a big risk it was scary as hell but there was something good on the other side of it. A friend of mine encapsulated it for me: I never lose, I either win or I learn. And it’s true. I’m not going to say that every situation turned out exactly the way I wanted it to, but I sure as heck did learn something from it. And when it did turn out the way I wanted it to turn out, I won. It seems simple but it’s true if you open up your mind and open up your heart and if you are going to try to continue to have a better life, I think it works. It’s how I continue to encourage myself to make those kinds of decisions.

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“We all have to take that first step sometime. You never know what the ripple effect will be.”
A conversation with Red Letter Honoree Susannah Balish

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Name: Susannah Balish

Location: Atlanta

Where do you currently work and what’s your current role? Senior Director, Cox Communications

What does getting the Mentor Award mean to you?

Mentoring, helping others to develop their potential, is a real passion for me. Receiving the Mentor Award from an organization like WICT SE is a recognition that what I’m doing matters, and that, in turn, fuels my commitment. It’s also an opportunity to share what I believe, which is that mentoring is a change agent for our experiences, our impact, and our legacy.

As women, we often find it difficult to give ourselves props for our accomplishments so I’m going to ask you to do just that. Why do you think you were selected for this award?

I am motivated and excited about helping others succeed. It’s important to me to connect in with others and help them take that next step. I work to bring this into all I do, and I think that approach stands out in an industry that is going through so many changes and challenges right now. Stepping out to drive change and taking risks are threads in my story. I think that commitment comes through in my day-to-day, whether it’s as small as sharing words of encouragement or as big as leading changes into the business.

This year’s theme is Inspire and Others will Follow. Is there one conversation/piece of advice that you go back to that inspires the decisions you make as a leader?

When faced with challenging decisions, I always go back to the mission or business purpose. Is my choice aligned with the purpose?  If so, I take advice from my first mentor, Suzy, and ask myself “If not me, who? If not now, when?” With Suzy’s guidance, I learned I can do so much more than I think. We all can! We will learn along the way and we are not in it alone. We all have to take that first step sometime. You never know what the ripple effect will be.

What advice do you give yourself when you are taking a risk or stepping out of your comfort zone? Why is it important to do so?

I believe career pathing today is like author E.L. Doctorow said, it’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights… but you can make the whole trip that way. I remind myself that I am the headlights for my career path. If I don’t stop to look around every so often and step into something new, I could miss the best part of the trip. You might not know where that next step is ultimately going to lead you, but it could be the one that takes you down the path to amazing, unexpected opportunities.

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“And also smile.  It’s harder to turn someone down that’s smiling”
A conversation with Red Letter Honoree Sarah Cheatham.
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Name: Sarah Cheatham

Location: Knoxville

Where do you currently work and what’s your current role? Director, Marketing Strategies, HGTV l Food Network l DIY Network l Cooking Channel l GAC

What does getting the Rising Star Award for Emerging Leader mean to you?

I’m grateful to be recognized as a Red Letter Award recipient.  And even more honored to be in the company of Shana, Susannah, Angela, Marilyn and Tina.  It is exciting to be nominated by my peers and awarded by WICT for my efforts. Receiving this award serves as an inspiration to me to continue my path of trying to inspire and mentor those around me in the workplace.

As women, we often find it difficult to give ourselves props for our accomplishments so I’m going to ask you to do just that. Why do you think you were selected for this award?

I’m passionate about empowering women in the workplace and I have always been a cheerleader of WICT.  It is easy to be a fan of an organization that promotes women to realize their profession and personal leadership potential.  I was proud to serve on the southeast board recruiting memberships the past few years.  The experiences I gained during my board work with WICT inspired me to launch Discovery Women’s Network in the Knoxville office.  I’m constantly encouraging peers and teammates in the workplace to participate in events put on by both organizations.  And when they’re ready to take the next step towards leadership in their careers, I really enjoy recruiting for committees and future board members to join the club!  I know that my efforts and continuous ambition to drive my colleagues towards reaching their fullest potential are a valuable asset to the entire team.

This year’s theme is Inspire and Others will Follow. Is there one conversation/piece of advice that you go back to that inspires the decisions you make as a leader?

I was raised to always, ALWAYS, ALWAYS do the right thing.  To my teammates, I’m known as a “rule follower”.  They also know that they can come to me for advice when they are unsure of the best way to proceed in any situation.  I believe I’m known for this because I lead by example since I can hear my mom in my head reminding me, “do the right thing, Sarah.”

What advice do you give yourself when you are taking a risk or stepping out of your comfort zone? Why is it important to do so?

Definitely be yourself.  I don’t think I’m being my best self if I’m not being my true self.  You’ll be more comfortable and more likely to succeed.

And also smile.  It’s harder to turn someone down that’s smiling 😉

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“I wouldn’t have a career I enjoy without my tribe, past, and present
A conversation with Red Letter Honoree Shana Keith

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Name: Shana Keith

Location: Atlanta

Where do you currently work and what’s your current role? Director of Public Affairs, Cox Communications, Inc

What does receiving the Rising Star Award for Emerging Leader mean to you?

Honored to receive this award.  For me, it’s a reminder of the people that have helped me be successful.  I wouldn’t have a career I enjoy without my tribe, past, and present.  Receiving this award has allowed me to reflect, and it goes back to the people that have shaped me, guided me, mentored me and sponsored me through the years.  I have a tremendous amount of gratitude for those people.  I’m excited to acknowledge some of them at the Red Letter Awards!  

As women, we often find it difficult to give ourselves props for our accomplishments so I’m going to ask you to do just that. Why do you think you were selected for this award?

I was selected because I work hard, and love to innovate in my field.  Most importantly however it’s because I’m authentic.  I’ve learned that to get things done and build a career it’s best to be my true authentic self.  People like real. People like real human connection.  Once you build relationships, getting the work done is easier, and more fun.

This year’s theme is Inspire and Others will Follow. Is there one conversation/piece of advice that you go back to that inspires the decisions you make as a leader?

I learned from a leader earlier in my career that if you feel valued and empowered, you’ll work harder, be confident and strive for results.  I felt that way in my career from the beginning, and I try to make everyone I work with feel the same.

What advice do you give yourself when you are taking a risk or stepping out of your comfort zone? Why is it important to do so?

Personal growth comes with discomfort.  In order to achieve and push boundaries, you’ve got to take every opportunity to step outside your comfort zone.  You may fail and that is absolutely fine!  I’ve learned so much in my failures and always remember that when times get tough, I’m learning and growing.

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To be considered for more responsibility, you must lift up your head, raise your hand, and say “I’ll do that!”
A conversation with Red Letter Honoree Marilyn Altman.

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Name: Marilyn Altman

Location: Atlanta

Where do you currently work and what’s your current role?  Vice President Technical Services Contracts at CommScope

What does the Catalyst Award mean to you?

It’s a wonderful honor to receive the Catalyst Award. Women are so often working hard and contributing but are hiding (or being pushed into) the background. It’s lovely for me, and all the other winners, to be recognized. It’s a tremendous validation of the work we do, and the commitment we’ve made to our companies and our industry.

As women, we often find it difficult to give ourselves props for our accomplishments so I’m going to ask you to do just that. Why do you think you were selected for this award?

I’ve been around a long time! I’ve had almost 20 years in the cable business to meet people, push projects and revenue forward, and make an impact. I think, since I’ve lasted a long while in a fast-paced and rapidly consolidating industry, some women may look to me as a role model. I take that responsibility very seriously.

This year’s theme is Inspire and Others will Follow. Is there one conversation/piece of advice that you go back to that inspires the decisions you make as a leader?

Many years ago, I volunteered to pack meals for a homeless shelter alongside a woman from my church in Orlando. As we chatted, I learned that she was the editor who created the title sequence for Disney’s original, animated Lion King movie. Wow was I impressed! I asked her how she learned her craft and got her job at Disney, and I was surprised to learn she studied animation at the local community college. Huh? I asked this beautiful, well-dressed lady why she chose community college. She did so, because it was all she could afford. She had fled an abusive husband in the Pacific northwest and driven as far away from him as she could…to Orlando! She had nothing but her clothes and her young son… no money, no friends, nowhere to stay. She and her son lived in a homeless shelter for six months, and she worked odd jobs, until she was able to enroll in community college. She was lucky enough to be tapped for an apprenticeship at Disney and the rest, as they say, is history. What’s the moral? Never make a decision based on someone’s title, how they look, or what you’ve “heard” about them. Try to understand the facts and the underlying motivations of customers, internal and external, then work as hard as you can to get the best result for everyone.

What advice do you give yourself when you are taking a risk or stepping out of your comfort zone? Why is it important to do so?

Just because you don’t know how to do it TODAY, doesn’t mean you can’t LEARN how to do it. Many times we are asked to create something brand new. If we wait for someone else to define everything for us, we’ll never move forward. We have to listen, listen, listen then bring about consensus and implement change. No one will take notice of you (offer you a promotion or a raise) for doing your job well. That’s expected. To be considered for more responsibility, you must lift up your head, raise your hand, and say “I’ll do that!”

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“My advice is to jump in head-first to whatever makes you uncomfortable.”
A conversation with Red Letter Honoree Angela Cannon

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Name: Angela Cannon

Location: Atlanta

Where do you currently work and what’s your current role?  Vice President, UP Faith & Family.

What does getting the Horizon Award mean to you?

Mae Douglas was being awarded the Woman of the Year award the first time I attended a WICT Red Letter Award Dinner.  Although I don’t know her personally, I remember feeling proud to witness another woman’s, better yet, black woman’s accomplishments and seeing her being celebrated by her peers that are just as accomplished.  That was near the beginning of my career here in Atlanta and it impressed upon me womanhood, celebrating and supporting each other and the importance of organizations like WICT and NAMIC for our industry.

I haven’t missed many Red Letter Award Dinner’s since then, and every year, I continue to be proud to be in a room full of accomplished and admired women.  Being named Horizon Woman to Watch Award for 2019 is not only an honor, but I’m humbled to be counted among such an esteemed group of fabulous women.

As women, we often find it difficult to give ourselves props for our accomplishments so I’m going to ask you to do just that. Why do you think you were selected for this award?

Ahh, great question.  I asked myself this very question when I received the news of the WICT Horizon Woman to Watch nomination.  The more I thought about it, I realized that over the years, I have worked to continuously break barriers due to my gender, my race or my experiences, worked intelligently with passion & compassion, built empowered teams and surpassed goals both personally and professionally.

If there was an area of expertise, I was unfamiliar with, I enrolled in courses to build my skills sets.  If presented with a challenge, I tried diligently to step up with viable solutions that sometimes actually worked.  The word “no”, does not register with me.  I find that all it does is motivate me to find another way.  Someone once told me, “Constraints Drive Innovation” and I live that more than most.  Not complaining – just recognizing that at independent networks, there are specific challenges larger companies do not have to consider.  Over the last 15 years, working for UPtv, aspire and now leading our streaming service, UP Faith & Family, thinking out of the box and working with limited budget & staffing resources, have driven some of the best and most compelling and innovative campaigns, promotions or national initiatives this industry has ever seen.

Most importantly, I have led my team with the intent of always operating in a spirit of excellence, fostering accountability and pushing them to take on challenges and pursue dreams greater than they ever thought possible.  I love what I do, I love the people I’m fortunate to work with daily and I love that we inspire hearts to be better every day!

This year’s theme is Inspire and Others will Follow. Is there one conversation/piece of advice that you go back to that inspires the decisions you make as a leader?

I grew up with a mother who taught me the importance of our faith. She would always say, “Only what we do for Christ and others will last”. She taught me to have a servant’s heart, to give, teach, listen & encourage everyone along our journey.  In my career, having the ability to lead with integrity, passion and compassion have oftentimes lead to Inspiring others.

What advice do you give yourself when you are taking a risk or stepping out of your comfort zone? Why is it important to do so?

My advice is to jump in head-first to whatever makes you uncomfortable. Be open and transparent about our weaknesses and work to make them strengths. Taking risks and stepping outside of comfort is not easy.  It requires a level of constant commitment to better ourselves, our situations, our teams or our companies.  It requires us to be intentional in our strategies and confident in our vision to reach the end goal.

It’s important to embrace the unknown because you will never reach a new height without climbing a new mountain and conquering the best of ourselves. Just Do It! No, Nike, you will not receive compensation on this answer.

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WICT Southeast blogger, Ana Adler is a tri-lingual freelance content creator whose mad skills include the words creative director, writer/producer, video editor, project manager, copywriter, and mamá.