Barbara York: Perfectionist With People Skills

May 7, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Barbara combines to an extraordinary degree both graciousness and competence. She’s low-key, soft-spoken, but she’s also very determined and a perfectionist. So she takes her work very seriously, but without the outward abrasiveness that sometimes comes with that sort of personality. She is adept at people skills, as adept at people skills as she is in organizational ability.

She was brought on shortly before I was president, when I was executive VP. I know she grew up in India and went to school in Hong Kong, and I think her international experience has aided her in life in general. She has a cosmopolitan picture of the world.

When she interviewed [at NCTA], she knew about conventions and she had a great deal of personal presence. That was impressive. And she is an obviously intelligent person, which one can recognize immediately just by the way she speaks, and it’s not the British accent.

During my tenure, NCTA changed enormously, from a backwater to one of the main lobbyists in Washington, in terms of budget and staffing. Barbara came in during a wave of making the organization more professional, and she helped to create new systems and draw in professional people to manage them.

It is very important that the convention goes right, but as a president-CEO, you can’t afford to spend a lot of time worrying about it. You have to have someone you trust to put it together, not only to make the trains run on time, but to make it relevant from a business and cultural perspective. Barbara is very good at that. She has very good judgment when it comes to looking for the needs of a convention, and each convention is different.

At the time, it was rocky in that the cable industry was facing a great many challenges. As the industry grew, the rivals paid more attention to it and sought to play the regulatory game of seeking regulatory advantage over us. Rising to the occasion, Barbara was not so much involved in the public policy side of it, but she was very involved in the structural changes that had to be made administratively to accommodate a larger staff and a more sophisticated operation.

We had to build a research department from scratch, and that’s a rather difficult thing to do from an intellectual perspective. In effect, we were building our own public law firm.

We also staffed a government relations division, which had existed but was re-created in that era. Pretty much the entire organization was re-created, and Barbara’s role was to build the administrative organization necessary to facilitate all this growth.

One thing we did was to build an entirely new budgeting system and also a system to keep track and make sure we were holding to the budget, all the things that go with a modern management system, and Barbara played a role in that. She was critical to the transformation of the NCTA.

Barbara was the archetype of grace under pressure. I think a great deal of Barbara as a person as well as an executive. I suppose that is one reason why she’s getting the award: She is liked as well as respected. It’s nice to see someone so deserving as she be so recognized.

One of her many jobs over the years was to run our own awards program, the Vanguards. Politicking is not unknown, and I used to purposefully stay away from them and the potential hurt feelings. Barbara has been able to manage that in a way that left as little as possible in the way of hurt feelings. It’s fitting that she herself should now be recognized.

Jim Mooney is principal of JLM Partners. He was NCTA president and CEO from 1984-93.


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