I first really got to know Barbara York about 15 years ago, when I was on the convention program committee. It was astounding to me how she could process the volume of information that she does, and she does it in a way that you never feel like she’s leading the witness. Somehow she makes it easy for committees to come to consensus on things, but you never really feel her fingerprints on it. The information is always presented in a very fair and digestible fashion.
From what I see, she has played a gigantic role in the NCTA convention from the beginning of time. She runs the convention program committee and she runs the convention, and I’ve played both the convention programming committee role and was co-chair of the NCTA convention last year, with Tom Rutledge.
It’s unbelievable when you think about the fact that the convention changes locations endlessly, and Barbara has to take care of the logistics as it moves from one year in Las Vegas, then it’s New Orleans, and then it’s Atlanta.
If you want to understand Barbara, New Orleans is a very good thing to talk about. For Tom’s and my year, the Cable Show was supposed to be in New Orleans. We met to have the first committee meeting in my office right in the middle of Hurricane Katrina. The levies hadn’t burst yet when we were having the meeting, and we were all on alert. Our goal was to be the first industry back into New Orleans after the hurricane.
First of all, Barbara waited until the last possible moment to make the call about whether or not we’d be in New Orleans. She also had every base covered trying to find another location for us, and we ended up in Atlanta. She had figured it all out. But she tried as hard as she could to do the right thing by New Orleans.
In those early days, we didn’t know how bad it was, and how bad it was going to be. And when the Cable Show switched to Atlanta, nobody knew the trouble we went through to make that happen — including us, because Barbara covered everything.
I thought she was an incredible leader, in honoring New Orleans and trying not to inflict any more pain on them, but also having a responsible position and having another venue for us to go to.
Honestly, Barbara takes the pain out of everything for people. When you think about the number of details that changed from doing the Cable Show in New Orleans to Atlanta — the number of hotel rooms, restaurants, details that had to be changed — it’s astounding. But you never see her break a sweat. I never felt like we were in any jeopardy of not having the greatest NCTA convention ever. She spends her life making the rest of us look good. You never fear that you’re going to look like an idiot. She has every detail completely nailed. She must have the largest pre-frontal cortex of any human being I’ve ever met. Nothing escapes her.
I think having the spotlight on her is the hardest thing on the world for her. Seeking out the most complicated logistics, strategic thinking, tactical thinking — there isn’t any amount you could heap on her that she couldn’t tackle. But she’d rather do it behind the scenes.
Last year, at the Cable Show, when Kyle McSlarrow called her up to the stage to praise her for her 25 years of putting the show together, you could see her blush from the stage to the end of the room.
Yet, when the going gets tough, she laughs. She has a real delightful way of laughing, and it’s so reassuring. It’s like she doesn’t panic, she just laughs, and you know she’ll figure it out.
Geraldine Laybourne is chairman and CEO of Oxygen Media.