Kaitz Foundation: focus on diversity

Sep 23, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Ask Spencer Kaitz, the founding director of the Walter Kaitz Foundation, what the No. 1 diversity issue is today and he will tell you it is the necessity “to break the old hiring patterns. … You have to break the pattern of always hiring on recommendations when you’ve got an all-white-male [work]force. That means you have to reach out to other communities.”
The other big diversity requirement of the day, Mr. Kaitz said, is to “break the cycle of where we buy things,” from programs to high-tech widgets.
The foundation that Mr. Kaitz heads is named for his father and is cable TV’s longtime conscience that keeps cable’s old-boy network from forgetting about diversity.
To its credit, the cable industry has always gotten behind the foundation in a big way. The annual fundraising dinner, scheduled to take place at the New York Hilton this Wednesday, continues to be very well supported and draws most of the movers and shakers in the industry. As a hook, the fundraiser annually honors a top cable executive; this year it’s Comcast President Brian Roberts.
“We’ve made real progress on diversity,” Mr. Kaitz said. “The haunting refrain of the late ’90s was, `When would an executive of color finally lead a major company?’ Now you have Dick Parsons at AOL Time Warner, and the position doesn’t get any more important or visible than that.”
Mr. Kaitz, said that his father, who was also a cable executive, “would be thrilled” both by the progress in diversity in the cable industry and by the growth of the industry itself. Walter Kaitz came by his passionate interest in diversity in part because of the lessons he drew from his own background,” his son said, noting that his father was a Russian Jewish immigrant to the United States. “He saw pogroms,” the organized persecutions of Jews in Czarist Russia. “He fought in World War II. He saw people resolving ethnic differences by killing each other.”
Heading the foundation named for his father is only one of the hats Mr. Kaitz wears. As president of the California Cable & Telecommunications Association, based in Oakland, he is also in charge of the Western Show, which has been struggling of late.
This year’s Western Show will accommodate tough and uncertain times by once again downsizing and focusing on the promise and possibilities of new technology.
The cable show’s theme this year is BroadbandPlus. Broadband is the focus out of continuing necessity and because of the changing nature of the cable industry, Mr. Kaitz said.
The Western Show, taking place in December, again in Anaheim, Calif., is well known to and readily accessible by the high-tech companies of the Southwest and Silicon Valley.
At one time, CCTA derived approximately 70 percent of its annual revenues from the Western Show, one of the two premiere gatherings of the cable industry. This year, CCTA expects to derive only approximately 10 percent of its revenues from the show, Mr. Kaitz said.
That means, down the line, CCTA dues must be raised, Mr. Kaitz said; it already has meant cutting back on all-important political activities and reducing CCTA staff by approximately 40 percent, or 12 people. Indeed, C.J. Hirschfield, the CCTA executive who ran the Western Show for the past dozen years, left in May to become executive director of Fairyland, a regional park in downtown Oakland.
The show’s exhibition-floor square footage will be down by about 20 percent from last year, and it will take place in two convention halls. Last year, the Western Show spread over three convention halls.
Attendance is expected to be down from last year’s 17,000. Exhibitors currently stand at almost 200, Mr. Kaitz said, and are unlikely to reach last year’s level of 260 by the time the show opens. By comparison, in the banner year of 2000 there were approximately 400 exhibitors at the show and attendance hit 33,000, a record.
Of course, comparable drops are expected at other industry trade shows. “When you hit a period as we are in now, where the economy is rough and financing becomes a challenge, you have to go to your core values and say, `What is it that’s really important?”’ Mr. Kaitz said. “For us the core of our show, and the strong role the Western Show has always played, is technology development in the industry.”
Programmers are once again expected to be relatively scarce on the floor itself, though Mr. Kaitz predicted that at least one of last year’s absentees will be back, and he noted that many technology people from the programmers themselves will be in attendance. Many of last year’s 97 new exhibitors, mostly from the technology side, are expected to be back.
The CCTA is accommodating budget-minded programmers overall by creating new and less expensive categories of “participants” who will have a hotel presence rather than a booth on the floor. Last year participants paid $14,000; this year the CCTA is offering $5,000 and $10,000 categories of participation as well as a third “digital living room” category for programmers who want to display their wares on digital monitors.
Comcast’s Mr. Roberts will lead off the show by doing a one-on-one interview. Mr. Kaitz was reminded that last year’s one-on-ones were with John Rigas, formerly the head of Adelphia Communications, and Robert Pittman, formerly one of the leaders of AOL Time Warner, and he was asked if he feared the start of a Western Show one-on-one curse.
No, Mr. Kaitz replied with a laugh, “Brian Roberts is a bold leader who does not acknowledge the world of the occult.”