Industry Pro Carlsen Rolls with the Changes There was a time in this industry when you could honestly ask, "who doesn’t know Ann Carlsen?" Long before playing musical jobs became one of our favorite leisure time activities, Ann was synonymous with cable head hunting. She knew everyone worth knowing, was on a first name basis with every major network and MSO head, and had, arguably, the juiciest Rolodex this side of Ari Gold. At a time when there were, literally, hundreds of MSOs and start-up networks actually competed for carriage (rather than riding the coattails of their corporate cousins), Ann was busier than the proverbial one-armed paper hanger. And she knew just about anybody worth knowing, or at least worth pitching for a high-level job opening. But then things stated changing. First, consolidation turned the MSO A-list into a club more exclusive than Augusta National. Then, major acquisitions and merger mania began knocking off independent networks one by one. At the same time, the industry got younger, while the former players on Ann’s speed dial cashed out, retired or got put out to pasture. Heck, even Rolodexes disappeared. Like those cable entrepreneurs throughout the years who always relied heavily on the industry maintaining a certain breadth of field—i.e., a sustainable number of potential MSOs and programming clients—Ann found herself at a crossroads. With the dynamics of the industry morphing at breakneck speed, she had to change too or face the grim reality that she could be relegated to purgatory, spending the rest of her cable career as a fringe player. I was thinking about consolidation last week and wondering how boutique vendors like Ann were faring as the industry pruned away smaller companies and slowly started resemble the auto, banking and radio industries—more than the diverse business many of us knew when we were young and wet behind the ears. All fears were laid to rest, however, the minute Ann answered my call. As is her MO, she was moving 100 mph, balancing conference calls, a research project, a high level search or two, and, of course, getting ready for the CTAM Summit. "It’s been crazy," said Ann when I asked her about consolidation. "I keep expecting things to slow down, but we’re having even a better year than we did last year, and ’06 was incredible." Ann said that one of the keys to her continued success is that she’s expanded into new media, doing searches for such Internet heavyweights as Google and Yahoo!. When I asked her how that came about, she told me sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. "It really wasn’t anything we did," Ann said. "They came to us. People we had worked with in the past went to work at Google and Yahoo!, and when they needed someone they just called us." So what kind of people get placed these days? "This is becoming the age of the specialist. If you have a special talent, or one singular ability that can translate into a number of situations, you’re much more employable than a generalist." Ann also told me, with a touch of sadness, that many of her longtime friends and colleagues, who have since been displaced, are walking around with an inflated sense of their worth these days. She said consolidation and a crop of young industry up-and-comers have conspired to create a seller’s market. "It remains to be seen just what’s going to happen to some of the people my age who now find themselves out of work." And the hardest thing about now vs then? "I have to be honest. It’s a little hard being so much older than some my clients. The first time I walked into the Googleplex, I walked into a room of execs 20 years younger than me. I looked around and thought, ‘What the heck am I doing here?’"

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