Walter Kaitz Foundation Dinner: Chance Led Britt to Career in Cable TV

Sep 12, 2005  •  Post A Comment

By Lee Hall

Special to TelevisionWeek

A career in the cable business came almost as an afterthought for Glenn Britt, chairman and CEO of Time Warner Cable.

A magna cum laude graduate in economics from Dartmouth College, he went on to the school’s prestigious Amos Tuck School of Business, where he earned a master’s of business administration, a degree he thought might be better suited for a job in the banking industry or Wall Street.

“But I always had an interest in media and television and I wound up kind of on the spur of the moment interviewing with Time Inc., which was then [in 1972] mostly a magazine company that was just starting to dabble in cable television,” he said.

A daylong series of interviews led to a job in the controller’s department, where, he said, he fell in love with both the company and the business. More than three decades later, “I’m still here,” he said.

The Walter Kaitz Foundation this week recognizes Mr. Britt as a Diversity Champion, citing his leadership, influence and authority in establishing a firm direction for the future of the foundation.

Mr. Britt was named chairman of the foundation’s board of trustees in 2002. A year later he oversaw a fundamental makeover of the foundation from an organization that promoted jobs and mentoring programs for minorities to a fund-raising arm that generates support for industry groups, including the National Association for Multi-ethnicity in Communications, Women in Cable & Telecommunications and the Emma L. Bowen Foundation. The Kaitz Foundation now operates under the aegis of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

“The mission of the Kaitz Foundation had become outdated,” Mr. Britt said in support of the decision to change the group’s focus.

The 22nd annual Kaitz Foundation dinner this Wednesday at the Hilton New York is expected to raise more than $1 million. Mr. Britt is one of four Diversity Champions to be honored at the event. The others are Cox Communications executives Mae Douglas, James Hatcher and Sherryl Love. The Diversity Advocate award will go to Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Working From the Inside

Mr. Britt takes a pragmatic approach to diversity within the Time Warner Cable organization. He figured early on that as the company’s top executive, he could realistically expect to establish a legacy in only a few areas. He led, he says, with his heart.

“If you’re smart, you sit down and say I’m going to have this job for a finite period of time, so what would I most like to accomplish?” he said. “I decided that one of my priorities was to change the culture and to create a much more open and diverse environment.”

During Time Warner Cable’s recent rollout of a new digital telephony product, the company hired 31 new managers. More than half of them are women or minorities, a hiring strategy Mr. Britt said demonstrates not only the company’s devotion to diversity but also a clear understanding of the realities of business. A changing business environment necessitates bringing in only the best and brightest.

“Anybody who doesn’t include 100 percent of the population in its search for employees is selling themselves short,” he said. “You need people with different backgrounds and different ways of thinking.”

Still, Mr. Britt conceded that both his company and his industry can do better. Many operators and programmers have done reasonably well at hiring women and minorities, but few candidates have reached top-level jobs.

“If you look within these organizations and down a level or two, you see a very diverse group of people. The challenge for all of us is to bring them along and into those top positions as best we can,” he said.

Long Time at Time

Mr. Britt worked his way up the Time corporate ladder, toiling in several divisions of the growing communications giant. Named VP and treasurer of Manhattan Cable Television in 1974, he moved over to Time-Life Books, then to Home Box Office, where he became a VP of network and studio operations. When Time Inc. joined with Warner Communications in 1989, he was appointed treasurer of the merged company.

Mr. Britt became president of Time Warner Cable in 1999 and was appointed chairman and CEO in 2001.

He says he hopes there comes a time when the idea of diversity becomes so ingrained in business practices that there will be no need for organizations like the Kaitz Foundation to hold up people like himself as examples of those who have done something special.

“It may be a long road getting there, but we’re headed in the right direction,” he said. “It is great to be honored, but I feel I’m just doing what makes sense for business and makes sense as the right thing to do.”