Barbara York is the linchpin of everything to do with the NCTA convention and many other events. BET has been involved with NCTA for years and, since I got on the board three years ago, I’ve gotten to know Barbara better. She is a terrific person, a first-rate professional.
She is really the glue that makes the convention — and a lot of other things around NCTA — work. She has a quiet presence, but she’s tough as nails, especially dealing with the NCTA board, which is comprised of a lot of colorful personalities on both the operator and programming side.
Barbara has survived several heads of NCTA, and she has the institutional memory and the presence to get things done. I really rely on her as a barometer of the political winds of NCTA — if there is a touchy issue, how certain people on the board will think of it. She understands the board and its operations and the personalities of the people on the board.
Because of her institutional memory, if a board member says, why doesn’t the convention start on Saturday, or why don’t we do this or that, she’ll gently remind people about the problems with it, or that we’ve already tried it. Not that she isn’t open to new ideas, but her institutional memory is very helpful, especially when you go through a change in leadership, as we have. She has been there through all the changes.
It was also great working with her on the Vanguard committee and learning about the history of the awards.
One thing that sticks out in my mind about Barbara is with regard to diversity. There was a strategic review done by an NCTA committee and the conclusion was that the Walter Kaitz Foundation, the not-for profit organization charged with diversifying the cable TV industry, should be brought into the NCTA and run by NCTA. That was a tough transition, and a lot of groups were worried about the political implications and what it meant for diversity. Barbara wrapped her arms around it and made it happen from an administrative point of view, giving advice on how it should be set up, and the transition occurred without missing a beat.
The commitment is still there, and it shows Barbara’s care for people and commitment to issues that have been important to the industry, like diversity and Cable in the Classroom. Her voice was there.
With diversity, I think she has a tremendous sense of what’s right and wrong and wants the cable industry and NCTA to be on the right side of that issue. It’s just the kind of person she is.
She works tirelessly in the background and doesn’t like a lot of attention. When we have a board meeting, at the end there are always accolades, and whether it’s building the Broadband Home and its new attributes or handling the FCC and other delegations, there is always a lot of praise for her. But getting her to stand up at a board meeting and accept the applause is never easy.
She takes pride in what she does, but she doesn’t do it for the accolades. She’s always used to making it work to honor other people.
Debra Lee is chairman and CEO of BET and chair of the 2007 Vanguard Awards committee.