By Barbara Frankel
Jill Campbell owes a remarkable career to a mentor who “saw something in me I didn’t see.”
That man, Curt Hockemeier, was her boss when 22-year-old Campbell took her first job at Cox Communications right out of college. She was happy in her job in communications (traditional for women), writing newsletters and working on event planning.
Hockemeier told her she should move into operations—where there were virtually no women. “He kept needling me about it and supported me to get my MBA. Little by little, he gave me more of the operations. Then he went to Harvard to get his EMBA and he let me run the system. I never looked back,” she recalled.
When she first was put in charge of a cable system, Campbell was 32 and not only the only woman in that job in the company, but also the only woman in that job in the industry.
In those days, before consolidation, cable systems were small. “We had 22,000 customers. I cut my teeth in every part of the operation. I had to learn everything from scratch,” she said.
Today, Campbell is chief operations officer and a direct report to Cox Communications President Patrick Esser and a powerhouse in the company and the industry. She’s also managed to raise three children: a 29-year-old daughter, Lauryn, who now has a daughter of her own; a 20-year-old son, Colin, who is a Northwestern University student; and a 9-year-old daughter, Afton, she adopted from Guatemala.
“I call them my three ‘onlys’ because they were so far apart,” she joked. But she notes that “you can have it all, just not all at once.”
Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer, Cox Communications (No. 18 in the DiversityInc Top 50)Previous Position
Senior Vice President, Field Operations, Cox CommunicationsEducation
Bachelor’s Degree, University of Nevada, Las VegasMaster of Business Administration, Oklahoma City UniversityCommunity
Member, Educational Foundation Board, Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing
Her first husband, an attorney, was very supportive and her kids “were self-sufficient,” but the marriage didn’t last. Her current husband, who is in sales, has a flexible schedule for their younger daughter. But the real difference has been the culture at Cox Communications, she said.
“Pat Esser has three daughters who danced and he made no bones about it that he had to go and see them,” she said.
“We all work with BlackBerries, iPhones—we are not 9-to-5,” she continued. “What was really important to me was having breakfast with my kids and dinner with my family. The majority of the time that’s the commitment I made to myself.”
Her oldest daughter had it the hardest, since the family moved six times in 10 years for Campbell’s career. “I often wondered what she would think about women having big careers,” she said. But her daughter married a man whose mother was a wonderful stay-at-home mom, and when they decided who they wanted as the guardian for their baby, Cora, they chose Campbell. “[My daughter] said I was the best role model because I showed her you can have your own life and career and be a loving, supportive mom,” she explained, noting that her daughter has her own business today.
The Whole Package
Support is key to having a family and a major job, she said. That support can come in the form of extended family, money for daycare or a nanny, and a work environment.
“There aren’t a lot of companies like Cox. They look at the whole package and they support you,” she said.
She would tell younger women that “nothing is ever perfect and if there is something you want, go for it.”
Providing career advice to as many people as she can us a goal for Campbell, given how her mentor Hockemeier pushed her on her career path. “My boss says, ‘Jill, you can’t be the only woman to mentor every woman in the industry,’” she said.
She notes that it’s really important to her to get more women in operations, where their presence continues to be a rarity. It’s harder today because consolidated cable companies have fewer opportunities to give high-potentials the broad training they need to lead operations.
But she doesn’t give up.
She recalled speaking at a Women in Cable event about leadership and what it means to be a woman in operations. A young woman from another cable company came up and told her, “What you said just changed my life.”
The young woman, a Black single mother, had dropped out of college where she had been studying engineering. After hearing Campbell, she was determined to give back to others in the poor neighborhood where she had grown up.
“[Recently] she emailed me,” Campbell shared. “She said, ‘I got my degree, got a promotion and now am a mentor in my old high school trying to get girls into engineering.’ That for me is everything.”