Cox’s policy that there’s more to life than work, Discovery’s bounty of perks and Comcast’s business dominance make them the best places to work in cable. By Michael Grebb You’re probably wondering why. Why would CableWorld take on the impossible task of naming the top 10 places to work in cable? Well, aside from our masochistic love of no-win, Kobayashi Maru-like exercises (Star Trek fans will understand that reference), we actually thought it would be fun and, more important, stir debate. Some will proudly frame this issue above the watercooler. Others will burn it in effigy at the company picnic. Still others don’t care what we think. That’s fine. Best-of lists are inherently subjective, but we also did our homework. We received detailed nominations from operators, programmers and a few vendors, and we worked the phones, bouncing ideas off industry veterans. Since everyone claims to offer "competitive salary and benefits," we drilled down further, considering location, special perks (on-site day care, telecommuting flexibility, etc.), workplace diversity and opportunities for advancement, among other factors. We also used our decades of combined experience covering cable (and years of late-night drinking binges with industry sources) to help guide us. In the end, this list, the rankings and highlighted human resources executives (who deserve much of the credit) represent a mix of research, grapevine chatter and, of course, our own good judgment. Yes, we expect to get letters. Let the debate begin. 1. Cox Communications When we solicited nominations for this survey, most companies sent the obligatory pitch from their corporate PR departments. But when it came to Atlanta-based Cox, we also received a flurry of e-mails from employees around the country telling us why Cox is such a darned great place to work. Were they prompted to contact us? Probably, but the sheer number of responses convinced us to dig deeper. Once we did, we knew Cox should be ranked No. 1. The stories were compelling. Connie Adam, an office administrator at Cox’s Sierra Vista, Ariz., system, told us about how understanding management had been when she needed flextime for breast-cancer treatments. "I will always be grateful for my job with Cox," she says. Others lauded the company for helping employees in the aftermath of Hurricanes Ivan (2004) and Katrina (2005). In addition, Cox has long fostered a diverse workplace; the company’s Diversity Council is "not some do-nothing group existing only out of politically correct self-importance," insists council member Anthony Surratt. Backing him up on that statement is WICT, which for three years running has ranked Cox the No. 1 MSO when it comes to opportunities for women to advance in the workplace. "The most important perk to attract and retain employees is work/life flexibility," says SVP and chief people officer Mae Douglas. Cox promotes a general philosophy of dialogue between employees and management. "In today’s marketplace, there is a hyper focus on driving efficiencies and cutting costs without a real regard as to how it impacts employees," says Douglas, who last year won the NAMIC-Atlanta chapter’s first Pioneer Award. "Cox’s culture doesn’t allow for that type of decision making. All of our decisions are viewed through a lens that considers employee impact." 2. Discovery Communications Yes, there have been many reorgs at Discovery. And some people just don’t fit the culture. But Silver Spring, Md.-based Discovery offers enough perks to rank high on our list. Here are a few: a free, on-site wellness center for employees and their families; fitness reimbursements for everything from gym memberships to yoga classes to personal trainers; financial services/legal assistance; telecommuting flexibility; a commuter reimbursement program (including an annual shoe subsidy for people who walk to work, if you can believe that); emergency child/elder care; an on-site dry cleaner and car wash; maternity and paternity leave; training classes; incentive bonuses for all employees; adoption assistance; and massage therapy. Meanwhile, the LifeWorks@Discovery initiative launched in 1999 helps employees find work/life balance. WICT also recognized Discovery as the top programmer workplace for women (even outranking Oxygen Media in the 2005 PAR Initiative study). "Access to workplace flexibility, recognizing employees as valued contributors, seeking input into management decision making and implementing a proactive wellness strategy are all critical components to maintaining enthusiasm among employees," says Pandit Wright, Discovery’s senior executive VP, human resources. 3. Comcast As Mel Brooks once eloquently stated, "It’s good to be da king." That pretty much describes the walking-on-air mentality at Comcast these days. Not only has the MSO been fending off satellite with its VOD-saturated video product, but it has stolen customers from the telcos by rolling out VoIP and juicing up HSD. And its numbers the last couple of quarters? Stellar, meaning that nice discounted stock plan is really starting to pay off for Comcast employees, who also get free cable and broadband (and discounted phone service). "The commercial and financial success of the company is a great draw," says Charisse Lillie, SVP, human resources. "We are proud of our success, and we know that it provides the resources for all of the other great things that we do." She also says founder Ralph Roberts and CEO son Brian are "very approachable" and maintain a "family-run feel." Meanwhile, annual employee surveys keep management up on workers’ psyches (WICT has also recognized Comcast as a good place for women). And let’s not forget that Comcast owns video-gaming channel G4. If that doesn’t spell fun, we don’t know what does. 4. Motorola Beyond any employee perks or tangible benefits comes an amorphous but often vital concept: The Cool Factor. Motorola, quite simply, has it. Its purchase of General Instrument in 2000 was only the beginning of something exciting. Motorola asked employees to figure out ways to make convergence a reality. And now—with MSOs all talking about adding mobility to their service bundles—it looks like Motorola is in the sweet spot. Its wireless gadgets are the coolest around and soon will be integrated into its next-generation set-tops. Motorola also inked a deal to roll out WiMAX technology with cable partner Sprint Nextel. Employees simply have endless opportunities to work on exciting projects. "During the hiring process, we emphasize that Motorola is continually reinventing itself and its technologies, creating an environment where employees are challenged, advancing and contributing," says Monica Skelchy, corporate VP of human resources for the Connected Home Solutions unit. 5. Cable One Smaller MSOs have their advantages as employers. At Phoenix-based Cable One, the average tenure of execs, system managers and associates is nearly 20 years. (Interestingly, The Washington Post Co. bought Cable One exactly 20 years ago.) That says something about the leadership of Tom Might, the longtime divisional president who oversees Cable One—he just seems to care. He spent weeks in the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina to tend to displaced workers. And every couple of years, Might spearheads an "associate incentive program" that can pay out millions of dollars to employees. Cable One also shares its success with its workers in other ways: On July 3, it awarded every worker an unbudgeted and unplanned salary increase that tracked with the company’s overall performance. At Cable One, the deal is pretty simple. "[We] expect associates to give the company 100% of themselves, and in return they are treated with respect, good pay and benefits, and an open culture where their ideas are not only asked for but crucial to the success of our business," says Janiece St. Cyr, VP, human resources. 6. ESPN "ESPN has grown from one network to a global, multimedia sports entertainment company with more than 50 distinct businesses," notes Daryl Smith, SVP of human resources. "This attracts a diverse employee base with talent from all over the world." OK, so most employees spend their days in Bristol, CT, surrounded by cow pastures. But a quick escape to the New York City office overlooking Central Park is always a possibility (and vice versa for frazzled New Yorkers). There’s mentoring, work flexibility (flextime, job sharing, telecommuting, etc.) and an on-site fitness center in Bristol with organized team sports (of course). And the perk to end all perks for employees with kids: free admission to Disney parks and resorts. 7. The Weather Channel There’s an elegance about a workplace that concentrates on something as basic to life as weather. And it doesn’t hurt that Decker Anstrom, everyone’s favorite recovering Washington lobbyist, runs things with the same class he showed at NCTA. Did you know 30% of senior management are minority women? In fact, WICT consistently recognizes Weather in its PAR study, contending that it "sets the industry standard for pay-equity policies and practices." But the best perk? Company-sponsored social events such as ballgames and golf come "with guaranteed pre-knowledge about rainouts," an exec says. 8. Liberty Global Surprised? Liberty Global isn’t the first company most people think about when you mention cable. But this global powerhouse has systems in 18 countries, making it heaven for those who love world travel and international intrigue. Employees without the yen to travel work at Liberty Global’s Englewood, Colo., headquarters, where they enjoy panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains and access to a private health club and restaurant. Salary and benefits are top-notch, mixing cash and equity incentives. Liberty Global provides employees with a valuable education in the international cable business under the umbrella of a U.S.-based firm. "Liberty Global is ever-changing, and the excitement of the international marketplace, interacting with people from different cultures and with wide-ranging interests makes for a naturally engaging work environment," says Amy Blair, SVP, global human resources. 9. Bloomberg TV After touring Bloomberg TV’s pristine Manhattan headquarters recently, we couldn’t resist adding the company to our top 10 list, and not just because the company offers free catered food all day to employees. A sense of egalitarianism permeates the place. For example, no one—including even top managers—gets an office. And no one has a fancy corporate title. On the other hand, the corporate culture has a reputation for long hours and hard-driving bosses (perhaps the free food is offered to keep people from leaving?). But no one can deny that Bloomberg TV has experienced huge growth and seems willing to spend money to make its employees comfortable. 10. The Cable Associations We leave our last slot for the often underappreciated cable associations, whose employees do more in one day to help the cable industry than most of us do all year. But why are associations like NCTA, CTAM, WICT, SCTE and other cable nonprofits good places to work? For one thing, there’s often less travel and the work hours are reasonable. (We realize that doesn’t apply to everyone.) And there’s the added psychological benefit of feeling like an advocate for a cause you believe in—whether that’s simply pleading cable’s case to policy makers, helping to train or educate the industry’s execs or even doing something big like raising money for AIDS research as a staffer at Cable Positive (the small staff there also gets to travel to exotic places and hobnob with celebrities…and they deserve it). Associations are filled with true believers. They merit recognition. Honorable Mention Adelphia – Gone but not forgotten. Employees there pulled off a neat turnaround, which tells us the company fostered a team of hearty troupers. Bresnan Communications – We always hear great things about this small MSO, including its cordial family atmosphere. Country Music Television – Adoption assistance, work flexibility, a casual work environment—all nice benefits. But if you’re in the music industry and sick of L.A. and New York, working in Nashville could be the best perk of all. Court TV – This used to be among cable’s best when Henry Schleiff ran it. The jury is still out (sorry) on whether the post-Turner era will be as much fun. Food Network – There are just too many fun shows for us to ignore this workplace, and the free samples aren’t bad. One perk suggestion: Let employees take on Iron Chefs to earn their bonuses. Maybe not. National Geographic – Laureen Ong invites employees to lunch and runs a great shop. Hit show Dog Whisperer most likely is giving employees calm, assertive confidence. YES Network – Who wouldn’t love working for a company so focused on the Yankees? OK, Red Sox fans wouldn’t.