In a tip of the cap to WICT’s Tech It Out program, which, among other things, urges non-technical women to consider tech careers, we bring you the paradigmatic non-tech techie. After being named SVP/GM of Communications and Data Services of Comcast Cable in March, Cathy Avgiris took on a portfolio of wireless, Internet and voice businesses worth $11bln. Having launched Comcast’s 4G wireless data service and previously run its voice business, Avgiris is the rare tech executive who knows numbers, having come from the financial sector. In an interview with tech writer Jonathan Tombes, she says repeatedly that customer engagement is a key to success. 

CTFM: What was your focus when you assumed larger management of the data platform?

Cathy Avgiris: Having been a part of the deployment of high-speed Internet years ago, where the driving force was to get out there as fast as you could, I had to take a step back and reevaluate the landscape. Speed is what gets customers in the door, but to retain them we want them engaged with the broadband service features: things like the best anti-virus software on the market; secure back-up and access to digital media; Wi-Fi to extend their broadband experience outside the home; a comprehensive, intuitive communications center for their email, address book and calendar. All easily accessible to them wherever they are.

CFTM: How does video figure into your portfolio?

CA: Online video is a relatively new phenomenon. As the nation’s leading broadband service provider, it’s our job to make whatever you do on the Internet the best experience. Video and broadband naturally are complementary. We want our customers to have the best, most secure, online video experience. They should be able to easily authenticate to get to their content, watch it from wherever they are, set parental controls, manage their DVR remotely, set a watch-list, use the Internet for what it’s best designed for – search and discovery – then decide what to watch on the big screen TV in the family room.

CTFM: How important is financial analysis in your work?

CA: Well, having a finance background, it is a key element to daily decision-making. I’m results-oriented, so facts are important. Metrics on how the business is doing, how customers are engaging with our products and services are important in deciding where next to invest development dollars. The P&L focuses us on driving top-line revenue and subscriber growth, while improving operating efficiency and driving cost out of the business.

CTFM: What can you tell us about [non-profit group] The Career Wardrobe?

CA: I wish I had the time to devote more to it. Its mission is fairly straightforward: Arm women professionals entering or re-entering the work force with everything they need to get a job, from interview skills to the right accessories and attire… When I have clothes to donate, I think to myself, there is a woman out there who could use this blouse, skirt, suit, scarf, bag or shoes to get to their interview and get the job they’re after.

CTFM: Let’s talk mentoring. What’s the best advice you’ve received?

CA: I try to learn something from everyone I meet and work with, including my mentees. Mentoring is a two-way street. The best advice I’ve gotten came from the president of a forklift manufacturing company, when I joined it as a 28-year-old CFO — ‘You will make mistakes. Don’t be afraid of them. Just don’t make the mistake that will cost the company.’ Terrifying yet empowering to take calculated risks and make decisions.

CTFM: Any advice to women entering cable?

CA: Don’t be afraid to ask dumb questions. Learn about the business you’re in, the technology that supports it, how customers use your products and find out what’s important to them. They pay the bills, and more often than not, they’re women. What did I know about the phone industry five years ago? I didn’t have a history of telecom, but I knew what the objectives were. Grow the business, add subscribers, provide value to them, make the product work reliably and efficiently, make your customers’ lives easier.

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