Cathy Avgiris, SVP/GM of Communications and Data Services Comcast Cable, began her career on the financial side. Now firmly ensconced in the technology world, Avgiris uses her financial acumen and acquired technological know-how to run a portfolio of digital products worth some $11 billion. Technology writer Jonathan Tombes conducted the following wide-ranging interview with Avgiris for CableFAX: The Magazine’s Most Powerful Women in Cable edition.
Jon Tombes: First, congrats on the promotion in March. How has your role changed as a result?
Cathy Avgiris: Combining our high-speed Internet, voice and wireless businesses presents a unique opportunity to package and offer products and services to our customers in a way that is intuitive to them and enables them to manage their communications needs from any platform, any device, any time.
JT: What was the key to navigating successfully between the services offered by incumbent telcos and those hosted by the Web-based players, such as Vonage and Skype?
CA: We wanted to distinguish ourselves in the market place — offer customers the same reliable, secure service they would expect from their traditional phone company, but with the opportunity to leverage our platform so features work seamlessly across the phone, TV, PC and now mobile devices. Caller ID is the perfect example÷it was developed, what, 25 years ago? But we enable it across not just the phone, but the PC and mobile device, something neither the telcos can do, or the web-based players either.
JT: How has Comcast been able to enhance the 4G offering of your partner Clearwire?
CA: Our partnership with Clearwire and Sprint enables Comcast to begin to offer mobile broadband services, and packaging with our high-speed Internet product gives customers the fastest Internet in the home, and on the go with 4G, as well as the coverage they need with 3G. The bundle makes the difference.
JT: What was your focus upon assuming larger management of the data platform? Has that changed over the past half year?
CA: Having been a part of the deployment of high-speed Internet years ago, where the driving force was get out there as fast as you could, I had to take a step back and reevaluate the landscape. There are a lot more choices for broadband than there were, and we want to maintain our leadership position. Speed is what gets customers in the door, but to retain them we want them engaged with the features that are provided to them as part of their broadband service. Things like, the best anti-virus software in 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, calendar, all easily accessible to them wherever they are.
JT: How does video figure into your portfolio? How will it over the next year?
CA: Online video is a relatively new phenomenon, and as the nation’s leading broadband service provider, it’s our job to make whatever you want to do on the Internet, the best experience for you. Video and broadband are naturally complementary and 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 is best designed for, search and discovery, then decide what you want to watch on the big screen TV in the family room.
JT: What is your visibility into the work of colleagues at OCTO and NE&TO?
CA: As the general manager with end-to-end responsibility for the product lines, I work very closely with our development, engineering and IT teams on everything from roadmap items for consideration, to development cycles for deployment, to post-deployment network monitoring, operations and lifecycle management.
JT: How important are tools of financial analysis in your day to day work?
CA: Well, having a finance background, it is a key element to day-to-day 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, is important in deciding where to invest development dollars next. The P&L focuses us on driving top line revenue and subscriber growth, while improving operating efficiency and driving cost out of the business.
JT: What can you tell us about The Career Wardrobe?
CA: I wish I had the time to devote more to the Career Wardrobe. Their mission is fairly simple and 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 to land that job. When I do 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 are after. I know everything I donate pays it forward in a meaningful way.
JT: Any tips on 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 the forklift manufacturing company when I joined 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.
JT: Any advice to women entering this industry?
CA: Don’t be afraid to ask the 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 bill and more often than not, they’re women. What did I know about the phone industry five years ago? I don’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.