Every year at the Cable Show, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association presents its Vanguard Awards to individuals “who have made the cable and telecommunications industry what it is today-the best of the creators, the innovators and the risk-takers.” Receiving one of two Distinguished Vanguard Awards for Leadership this year is Amy Tykeson, president and CEO of BendBroadband.
As head of the Central Oregon cable company, Ms. Tykeson has led the firm into the 21st century with the introduction of InstaNet and digital cable, as well as other new services that promise to enhance communication opportunities in the years to come. Ms. Tykeson recently spoke with TelevisionWeek correspondent Allison J. Waldman about winning the Vanguard Award.
TVWeek: What is your reaction to receiving the Vanguard Award?
Ms. Tykeson: Knowing many of the award winners from prior years, I am truly honored to have been selected. Of the many talented executives and leaders in our industry, I feel very lucky to have been singled out.
TVWeek: How did you get started in the cable business and come to this point in your career?
Ms. Tykeson: My dad [Oregon broadcasting pioneer and Bend founder Don Tykeson] encouraged me to look into cable back in 1980 when the industry was exploding. Most of the urban franchises were being let and new programming channels were appearing in quick succession. It was a hotbed of opportunity back then as today. I joined HBO and worked in affiliate relations in Chicago, then moved into marketing in New York. I became involved in Women in Cable early on, and that provided a valuable leadership training ground. I was given many leadership opportunities at HBO. When I moved back to Oregon in the late 1980s I joined the BendBroadband [Bend Cable Communications] board while I worked and contributed to other family businesses in paging and broadcasting. In the 1990s I became involved in the operations of BendBroadband, and over a period of years my dad and I worked through the succession plan.
TVWeek: What innovations and advances in the past year do you believe have made your company so successful?
Amy Tykeson: There is no question that the launch of digital phone service in 2006 has been key in fueling continued growth; it is one more arrow in the quiver. Our investment in digital simulcast in 2005 and the subsequent recasting of our digital offering is paying dividends: Now three out of four new customers opt for digital cable over analog.
TVWeek: What distinguishes your company from the competition?
Ms. Tykeson: No question it is our employees, the ambassadors of BendBroadband, who set us apart from the competition. Everyone is aiming to wow the customer with the technology we offer and the customer service that backs it up.
TVWeek: How has technology enhanced your serving the community and consumers?
Ms. Tykeson: Investing in technology is fundamental to success in this industry. Pretty much those that spend to bring the new services, features and back-office integration are doing better than those that have not invested. BendBroadband was the first cable system in Oregon to launch high-speed Internet. We were the first with digital simulcast and the second in Oregon with digital phone. Our customers recognize and appreciate that their small cable company is a leader. Consumers in Central Oregon are voting with their dollars in terms of adding the new services that we launch. But technology is meaningless if it is not backed with quality service. In addition, we are continually looking for ways to make it easier for customers to communicate with us on their terms. Technology plays a role here, too, whether through online chat with our help desk, ordering via the Web or answering questions through our e-mail feedback mechanisms.
TVWeek: What do consumers expect from cable providers that BendBroadband delivers better than others?
Ms. Tykeson: I think customers want a solid array of services that work and perform reliably. They want simplicity. They expect courteous and knowledgeable customer service from people who care about them. As a local company, we do a good job with the customer service aspects and the technology. We make the investments in our people and technology, and I believe it shows.
TVWeek: What’s the most important ingredient in making your company a success?
Ms. Tykeson: There is no question that our company culture is fundamental to our success. We have deliberately invested in organizational development over the past four to five years to build a culture we are proud of, one that is customer-focused and team-based. Our associates operate in an open environment where everyone is expected to contribute. This open, team environment has enabled us to break down department silos and build cross-functional work groups. Without this fluid type of structure, it would be challenging if not impossible for our small company to tackle big projects and initiatives and remain competitive.
TVWeek: Tell me why BendBroadband has earned the recognition it has.
Ms. Tykeson: I would have to say investment and leadership are the key factors. We spend heavily on the technology, and it does not appear that investment will diminish any time soon. Driving that investment is a core group of executives, frankly the finest team I have had the privilege to work with. It’s this group of leaders that make the work rewarding. We are on a journey together to keep BendBroadband out in front. It’s quite a ride.
TVWeek: How will BendBroadband evolve in the next five to 10 years?
Ms. Tykeson: Looking back 10 years, who would have predicted that we would have the triple play? Throughout our industry’s history, we have continued to evolve, adapt and create new services and feature sets that leverage our HFC [hybrid fiber coaxial] plant. It is a pretty impressive history, and the future looks even more exciting. With all the talent and technology we have in our industry, I envision that cable companies will be providing a seamless fixed-mobile experience for customers over the next few years. Customers will be able to capture content and communicate across platforms. Devices will work together. There will be more personalization with software applications allowing customers to vote, play games or select a guide, for example. There will be more integration between services, like voicemail on TV, programming the DVR with your mobile phone. This cross-platform functionality will add to customer convenience. Cable has the access to content and the technological capability to deliver the next generation of functionality that customers want.