It’s not possible to list all of Kay Koplovitz’s achievements, but here are a few highlights:
- She is the Founder of USA Network.
- She created the business model for cable networks.
- She launched the Sci-Fi Channel in 1992.
- She is the co-founder and chairman of Springboard Enterprises.
- She was appointed by Bill Clinton to the bipartisan National Women’s Business Council.
- She has served on numerous corporate boards ranging from Nabisco to Oracle.
So, after reading her recent book, Been There, Run That, I jumped at the opportunity to ask her some questions about her unbelievable career. Been There, Run That includes writing from 45 entrepreneurs who share wisdom on building and launching new ventures.
Trailblazing through Innovation
Kay, I want to start by saying that I think of you as a business leader. Your track record and results speak loudly. But, I am reminded that you’re the first woman to found and serve as president of a cable network, and that makes you an inspiration to many women. What unique challenges did you face as a woman?
More important than becoming the first women to head a television network, I created the business model for cable program networks, which is based on two revenue streams: advertising and licensing. It reversed the TV model of paying television stations to carry network programs. We collected a fee from the cable systems and also sold advertising. This is the reason so many cable program networks have been successful.
In many ways, you were trailblazing a path, opening up doors for women behind you. Were you cognizant of that at the time?
Absolutely, and I believe I was a leader for men in the industry as well, as I preceded most of them. Throughout my career, I tried to provide opportunities for women to move up the management ladder. I co-founded Women in Cable, now Women in Cable and Telecommunications, to provide management training and the opportunity to learn to be great general managers. Today, WICT is one of the best training organizations in the industry.
After USA Networks, you turned to venture capital and found that over 95% of venture capitalists were men. What have you done about this?
I co-founded Springboard Enterprises, a non-profit accelerator for women-led companies in technology and life sciences, in 2000. We are seeking to level the playing field for women-led businesses that need to raise venture capital. As of yearend 2014, we have brought 562 companies to market, 83% of which raise capital and 80% are in business today. Collectively they have raised over $6.6 billion, and 35% have had liquidity events, including 11 IPO’s. Readers can gain great insight from the advice of these wonderful entrepreneurs who contributed to Been There, Run That.
My two partners and I also are launching a for-profit Springboard Fund to invest in companies completing the accelerator program. We have many great companies: Constant Contact, iRobot, Zipcar, Minute Clinic, Viacord, and many more.
What’s the best way to encourage innovation throughout a large organization?
Creating open teamwork is the best way to encourage innovation. Give people permission to experiment by offering them both responsibility and authority to break rules for creative destruction and innovation.
Diversity is an important value. It improves results and decision-making. Why is it so difficult to achieve?
I think people are more comfortable working with people like themselves. The venture world I work in now is still heavily male dominated. They have a culture, and it is not always easy for others to break into it. Women and minorities have different networks, different language and often experiences which may lead them to develop breakthrough products unfamiliar to men. Also, for some, there is still the locker room behavior, which isn’t comfortable for women. As a response, I have written a chapter in Been There, Run That, that is titled “Company Culture is Yours to Set: Consider It Wisely.”
Creating a Winning Culture
How do you think leaders can create a winning culture?
Leaders can institute change by making sure they source diversity for all positions and demonstrate an open, transparent and inclusive environment. There is ample evidence that highly diverse teams, not only by gender but by skill and ethnicity, perform better than those that don’t. You might be surprised what you learn from Rosemary O’Neill in her article, “Why we Give Unlimited Vacation Time.”
In today’s hypercompetitive global marketplace, what skills are required to be distinct and achieve rapid growth?
A good dose of emotional intelligence is needed to lead in the socially connected world we now live in. Transparency, trust, inclusion, collaboration and effective decision-making are thought to be the skills required to lead a diverse and opinionated workforce. You can learn a lot from Robin Chase in her article, “From the Heart: How Corporate Values Drive Authentic Brands and Customer Loyalty.”