2012 Honoree

Melinda Witmer

Executive Vice President and Chief Video and Content Officer for Time Warner Cable

“Pride and Prejudice usually tops my list. I love that Jane Austen used the best medium available at the time to express herself and share her world with hopeless (or maybe hopeful) romantics for generations.”

What is your favorite book (fiction or nonfiction)?

Pride and Prejudice usually tops my list. I love that Jane Austen used the best medium available at the time to express herself and share her world with hopeless (or maybe hopeful) romantics for generations.

What do you think about the media’s portrayal of women?

The portrayal of women has been steadily changing over the last decade, but I think the biggest change I can see is that women are more in control of that portrayal than ever before. There are not only a growing number of female executives in decision-making positions within media outlets, such as television networks, but there is much more content available that is targeted to and about women. At the same time, there has been an ongoing shift to greater quantities of reality programming on television, which rarely presents people–male or female–under the best circumstances. So, there are more opportunities to see women than ever before, but on any given evening of television, you are as likely to see women boring the reality of their dysfunctional lives alongside smart, scripted dramas featuring intelligent and educated women. Overall, I think the presence of women in television is growing and, while the portrayal may make us all squirm sometimes, it may well be more true to life.

Can you tell us about one of the biggest challenges in your life that you think helped you become the person you are today?

At the end of 2006, my long time mentor retired and I was named his successor. He was an amazing business leader, considered a real icon in cable television, and one of the most talented and successful cable programming executives–ever. At the time, I had only recently moved out of the practice of law and into a business role and was attempting to fill his very large shoes was a tremendous challenge. Though he was a wonderful mentor and gave me lots of amazing advice and pearls of wisdom, for the first few years while I worked to build a great team, negotiate billions of dollars of programming arrangements, and forge my own path, it often felt like sinking rather than swimming just might be a viable option. Fortunately for me, I hung in and, with a lot of help, made my way.

Do today’s young people face a bigger challenge than you did?

No, but I do think their challenges are different. Each generation faces challenges, and with each generation those challenges are new and changing. Bullying is a great example. There have been bullies throughout the ages, but with the ubiquity of social media in young people’s lives there is no safe place. When I was a kid, the bully got left at the curb or at the bus stop; for kids today, there is no relief. On the other hand, young people today may have some idea of what the Dewey Decimal System is, but they have no idea what it really means to research every element of your term paper without the internet.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

I have been blessed to have several amazing mentors in my career who have all given me meaningful advice along the way. However, the single best piece of advice that I have ever been given was that I should trust myself and not be afraid to attack every challenge in my own unique way–to look to myself for answers and be willing to just “make it up…since I [could] just make it up as well as the next guy.” The same mentor told me to not be fooled by experience, because even the most experienced person is still just making it up a lot of the time. Silly as it sounds now, it was the single most empowering piece of advice I was ever given, and I often find that, when faced with a difficult challenge, getting grounded in trusting myself to “just make it up” gives me the confidence that I can overcome and solve any problem.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

I think it would be with a table of my ancestors. The ones that got on a wooden boat in January of the first decade of the 17th century to cross the ocean to America to make a new life. Assuming they were not escaping criminals, I would really like to say “thank you” to them for the incredible bravery and sacrifice it must have taken to make that voyage and forge an unknown future for their unknown and distant descendants like me. Somehow, I imagine finding among that adventurous lot the same tenacious, fiercely competitive spirit that I have and kindred desire to pursue new opportunities, even at great risk. I would like to know what drove them and what they hoped their actions would mean to those that came after them. It would also be nice to figure out who gave us all that “left eye near sighted, right eye far sighted” thing!

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