Barbara York: A Type A+ Personality

May 7, 2007  •  Post A Comment

I’ve known Barbara for years, but I worked very closely with her when I headed NCTA, so that’s when I really got to know her. She’s highly talented and really is a person who’s off-stage directing much of what goes on. She’s a very private person and has always shunned public recognition.

At my time at NCTA, Barbara was senior VP/chief administrative officer. She oversaw first and foremost the National Show, and she has guided that for many years. And it’s always comes off flawlessly. As soon as one show is over, she starts work on the next one, because when you’re giving a house party for 20,000 for three or four days, there’s a lot of organizing and contract negotiation to be done. Most people don’t think of that, but there’s a lot behind the show, and plans for it start a year or more in advance.

Barbara has always handled that for NCTA as well as heading up all the administrative functions, like human resources and finance and accounting. Barbara was also the person who was the principal liaison with the NCTA board, taking care of all the arrangements for board meetings and board retreats.

With anything Barbara has been involved with, things just get done, they just happen. And you’re unaware of all the hard work that has been done, because they’re carried off so well.

Barbara is not a Type A personality — she’s Type A+. She’s the first one to be in the office in the morning and the last one to leave in the evening, if it’s still evening. Her department is also very hard-working. When NCTA moved its headquarters in the last year, within one year, she was responsible for locating the new space, and all the arrangements. With [NCTA’s] Mark Bell, who works for Barbara, they worked tirelessly on the design and layout of the new building — all those things that keep an organization going that people may take for granted.

At NCTA, if you think, how does that all get done, the answer is usually Barbara York. She’s really an unsung hero of the industry, and it’s wonderful to see her get this recognition, even though it will embarrass her.

Even with her working from morning until night and weekends, Barbara would always take time for her staff and people. We shared a suite of offices on the third floor of the old NCTA building, and sometimes we’d come in and there would be all this gourmet food laid out because Barbara had spent the weekend cooking for someone’s birthday, or Thanksgiving. Barbara wasn’t ordering out — she was in the kitchen, fixing for everyone else. She’s a great cook.

It was very difficult to get Barbara to take a vacation, very difficult to get her to take time off. One year, after one of the conventions, we sent her to Canyon Ranch for three or four days, which she graciously accepted. She’d been working flat out for the months and weeks before the convention.

With regard to corporate memory, in the time Barbara has been at NCTA, there have been five president-CEOs. We come and go, with about a five-year average. But Barbara is there, and so it’s good because there is a lot of history, and Barbara knows it.

While most people think of the NCTA because it’s the policy and advocacy arm of the industry, it also provides a lot of other support to member companies. Barbara’s relationships are really very widespread throughout the industry, whether it’s the CEO or the CEO’s assistant. She knows all the key people to know in the various companies. She’ll be very helpful to the CEOs — she helps train them. She’s a very valuable resource to the president-CEO.

She was a great tutor in my first year at NCTA — and she was always a great supporter throughout. When anybody takes that job, there’s a fair amount to learn about the organization. In addition to all the external activity, there’s a lot of internal industry activity.

Barbara is very knowledgeable and sensitive about relationships within the industry. She sensitizes you to personal issues, because she knows so many people. If there was ever an issue or question or problem in the past and somebody who might require special attention, she in a very unassuming way will help. She did help me that way, and I’m sure she did with the others before me.

NCTA is a place where there is a lot of staff continuity and people genuinely like one another, and even though it can be a pressure cooker at times, people work closely together. Personal relations are quite important — and there’s almost a family quality to the relationships in some of the departments. There are probably lawyers in the law department who can finish each other’s sentences. There’s a fairly large senior staff there, but Barbara is really one of the key people. We weren’t terribly hierarchical at NCTA, but Barbara is one of the inner circle in leadership.

Barbara is really an unsung hero. She’s very, very classy. She is an elegant person. There are a lot of egos that you have to satisfy in her position, and people you have to work with, and Barbara does that.

One other area that she’s had the responsibility for, for a long time, is the Vanguard Awards. But the interesting thing is that people quickly learned that those are not awards that one lobbies for. I remember my first year, asking her about the awards, and she said, “The work of the committee is confidential, Robert, you don’t want to get involved and you don’t have to worry about this.”

The Vanguard Awards committee varies from year to year. They take their work very seriously and it’s very confidential. She quietly deals with that. Of course there are people who promote themselves, and Barbara deftly manages the whole process.

Robert Sachs is principal of Continental Consulting Group. He was NCTA president-CEO from 1999-2005.


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