This past week, I had the great opportunity to meet with Susy Schwede, a Cox Media Senior Product Manager, at her office in Atlanta at Cox Communications. Susy is a graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and used to work for Cox out in the Midwest market. She moved to Atlanta a few years ago to build her team at Cox’s Headquarters. Susy had such great insight to both the telecommunications industry and being an effective and thoughtful leader!
Q: How did your educational background in Business Administration, Management and Marketing prepare you for the corporate world?
A: I would say I was really lucky that part of my educational background is I did an internship, so it counted for college credit at the time, and honestly, I think that’s what prepared me the most for my career. I was very fortunate that I interned at State Farm Insurance and had a leader who really told me to speak up if you want any projects. They told me, “we’re going to give you typical intern type work, but if you have an appetite to do more and take on more responsibility, let’s see how we can make that work for you.” I think that with my work ethic at the time, I was an intern taking that and turning it into real-world experience that I could go ahead and use.
Q: What is the most significant change facing Cox in the next five years?
A: I’ll talk about Cox Media in particular. That’s sort of where our background is and for us, we’re continuing to develop and sell new advertising products, and if you take a look at consumer behavior, customers are potentially cutting the cord. You hear about “Cord Nevers”, people that never subscribed to cable and all these people that are subscribing to streaming services. As we are selling “eyeballs” (what we call impressions to our small and medium-sized businesses), how are we going to continue to deliver the same eyeballs we used to on television now when viewer fragmentation is so high? We’re really looking at investing heavily in product development. You see Comcast doing a lot about TV everywhere and watching through their streaming app. We’re doing the exact same thing as they’re doing. We’re going to bring advertising to the Contour space, so we’re going to be able to reach those people if they aren’t watching on the big screen and they’re watching on tablets or phones or even streaming through Roku or other devices.
Q: When you come to work every day, what’s a typical day for you?
A: Great question. There is no typical day I would say. I usually show up with my list of things I would like to accomplish and then that doesn’t happen. I think the reason I personally love this job so much is that I do something different almost every day or we’re figuring out something new that we haven’t done before, which is great. I can do the same project as long as it’s changing or I’m progressing with it.
Q: What is one thing you would tell your college self?
A: I am always kind of a put your head down, get your work done and people recognize you for the work you do, which I agree most of the time, but I’m not a very good brand promoter of myself. I hope that my boss knows what a great job I’m doing, but I typically don’t champion myself. I think there are ways to do that, to make sure that you’re getting the recognition of the job that you’re doing. I think if I had the chance to go back at different moments in my career to make sure I was letting the people know, “this was my ownership role, here’s what I took on as a leadership role”, because sometimes, and especially now being a people leader, I don’t see all of that because I trust that my employees are doing their work and getting it done, but if they’re sort of taking on a bigger role or shifting responsibilities, I don’t always know all of that. I think now, especially as you see people managing larger teams, you can see how a lot of that can get lost in the shuffle. You sort of have to own your own career and ask for opportunities and really showcase that you deserve them. I think the more that you speak up and do that and build that relationship with your boss or even other leaders within the company, because maybe your boss knows, but are they championing your brand to other leaders?
Q: What have you learned being in the workplace as the single most important quality to have outside of technical skills?
A: Communication. I’ve been lucky enough to be in different roles where I have to communicate with every sort of position in the company. So, I might be talking to a frontline employee all the way up to our Chief Strategy Officer. How you change and flex your communication styles across the board and use your communication to help you get your goal accomplished is key. It’s about keeping your boundary partners informed, making sure that they have a comfort level, knowing what to communicate to your boss and not to communicate your boss, knowing what you communicate to your direct reports and not communicate to your direct reports because you want to be transparent, but yet, depending on your leadership position, sometimes you can’t share with them. I think that’s really a basis for almost everything you do every day, especially in this type of role where you have to work with so many different groups. I think if you can nail communication and how to flex your style to work with different people, um, it will help you out along in the long run.
Q: Why is Cox different than other telecommunications company?
A: I would say its culture and the people that work here. If you talk to a lot of the folks here, the tenure of employees is kind of ridiculous. It’s insane. It doesn’t happen like that anymore anywhere else. Our VP of Marketing just retired, and she had been at Cox for almost 25 years. I’m on nine years right now, and it’s the longest I have been anywhere. I’ve been lucky enough that I’ve gotten promoted in different areas, so I’d never been in one single role too long. I think that’s great because if you are a good employee, you are definitely recognized and rewarded. The other thing is, most people here truly care about their employees and it’s just a different sense of culture with what comes with it and I think people feel that when they’re here, so they tend to stay longer.
Q: What is the most exciting project you’ve ever worked on? Something that you were either really passionate about or you felt like you grew from a lot.
A: I’ll give two very different examples. When I was in real estate at Cormac Company, we did a huge company reception and trade show, called the International Council of Shopping Centers, ICSE, every year in Vegas. I obviously had no experience running trade shows, had no idea what to expect, and at the time, the president of our company decided he wanted to redesign our booth, change what actually happens there, and change up what we’re doing as far as the event. I was very, very stressed and didn’t really know what I was doing. I think that was a true “figure out how to get it done” situation. I had the contacts where he just had our old booth, but I essentially had to do a complete redesign of everything. It required a lot of grassroots efforts to try and work within a budget. With the social event, I really did it up. I had to theme the whole event, hire entertainment acts, and coordinate everything. I mean, it was, it was worse than coordinating my wedding! I was trying to get like a thousand people all offsite at a Vegas Casino. That’s a lot. I’m really proud of it because I did so many different things that I never thought I would ever do in my career, and sort of figured it out on my own. The other one I would say is here when we onboarded a new partner and took this new partner from beginning to end and all the way through, and now we actually have a very significant chunk of our digital media revenue on the books through this one partner. It’s just been very satisfying to see that we brought something into the organization, figured out completely what it looks like, how it should be sold, actually seeing it being sold, and now it’s making up almost 30 percent of our digital media revenue for this one partner. You sort of get that satisfaction of knowing all the work you put in is actually paying off and it means something to the bottom line of the company. That’s been really gratifying.
Q: What is the biggest challenge when it comes to wanting to be friends with your employees and also having to be their boss? How do you walk that fine line?
A: That’s a tough relationship because you care about them so much and you want them to like you, but also, you’re the boss. We’ve been a small team, so we are pretty close, but I also think sometimes that makes it harder because when you’re very close to them, and you do know a lot of personal information about your team, you definitely want to help and do anything you can. For me, I sort of approached my leadership so that I put my direct reports first, so I really try to make sure I respond to their emails first, make sure that they are my number one priority, even if it’s at the sacrifice of me getting some of my own things done. I try to really let them run their own schedule and run their own day. I’m not a micromanager. I don’t like to micromanage. I want them to know I’m here 100 percent to support them for anything they need, but they also need to be the ones to speak up and tell me if they need something because I’m going assume most of the time that they know what they’re doing, but I’m happy to answer questions and help them along the way and help coach them. It’s great if you’re friends with them and everything’s going well, but if for some reason you would ever have to put them on a performance improvement plan or have to coach them through difficult conversations, you have to separate that personal relationship. I think also too, if you’re friends with them, they will take any feedback much harder and personally.