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CED’s Person of the Year - Bergman shines brightly

Wed, 12/31/2008 - 7:40pm
Mike Robuck, Senior Editor

Bright House Networks' president: An industry thought leader, operations maven and mom.

Nomi Bergman is a perfect example of the old nature vs. nurture argument being moot.

Bergman imprinted early with the cable industry as the daughter of Advance/Newhouse Chairman and cable executive Robert Miron, but she’s also an amalgam of leadership, curiosity, drive and determination, as well as a dedicated mother Nomi Bergman - CED’s Person of the Yearof three daughters.

Bergman, who is president of Advance/Newhouse’s Bright House Networks (BHN), is CED magazine’s Person of the Year for just as many reasons, including for being on the spearpoint of the industry as a strategic thought leader.

Bright House Networks is a family affair. In addition to Robert Miron, Bergman’s brother, Steve Miron, serves as the company’s CEO.

While Bergman, 45, is quick to redirect credit to team members at Bright House Networks or others in the cable industry, last year she played a key role in several important industry initiatives, including the formation of Canoe Ventures, the Clearwire joint venture, and this year’s show consolidation schedule.

Bergman is a tireless worker who is usually up at 4 a.m. answering e-mails, both of which are traits she learned from her father.

“She’s this very petite, polite, really attractive woman, but she’s a dog for work, man,” said Arthur Orduna, who was Bergman’s third hire when she first assembled the BHN team after Advance/Newhouse took over the operations of its jointly owned cable properties from Time Warner Cable. “It actually used to worry us that she would burn out. The only problem about Nomi was that she worked too damn hard.”

Prior to becoming Canoe Ventures’ CTO in August, Orduna was Advance/Newhouse’s senior vice president of policy and product. Bright House Networks, Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Cox Communications, Charter Communications and Cablevision teamed up to form what became advanced advertising entity Canoe Ventures last year, and Bergman helped steer the creation of Canoe Ventures.

“She was one of the driving leads when Canoe was just a project,” Orduna said. “Without her support, we wouldn’t have started this company. This remains one of her key projects now that she’s on the [Canoe Ventures] board of directors. I still rely heavily on her for those same qualities and that same sense of direction.”

Time Warner Cable CTO Mike LaJoie said one of Bergman’s strongest traits is her willingness to do what’s best for the cable industry, even if that may not necessarily align with what’s best for Bright House Networks. Canoe Ventures is just one example of Bergman putting the industry first.

“She stood up and said, ‘On behalf of Bright House, I’ll sponsor this because it’s important to Bright House and important for our industry,’” said Yvette Gordon-Kanouff, SeaChange’s chief strategy officer. “She took a key leadership role in that project, and the fact that she lost such a key employee to do the right thing for the industry shows what kind of person she is.”

While Clearwire’s WiMAX broadband service is slated to make its debut this month in Portland, Ore., Bergman helped push the project along when it was in its earliest stages.

“Nomi was in the middle of the Clearwire deal,” Steve Miron said of the joint venture that included investments from Comcast, Intel, Google, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. “She was very instrumental for our participation, but I think she played a role for the industry, as well.”

While Bergman has given her time in the past to various industry organizations such as the NCTA, CTAM and WICT’s board of directors, last year she was voted onto the SCTE’s board of directors for the first time as an at-large representative.

“Wendell Woody called and asked me if I would consider being on the board,” Bergman said. “I thought it would be a good experience for me, and I appreciate the opportunity to give back to our industry. Due to changes in our industry, such as the consolidation of conferences, there will be challenges to navigate.”

Those challenges included the departure of, and finding a replacement for, former SCTE president and CEO John Clark.

“She has taken a real leadership role because she feels it’s the right thing to do for the industry,” Gordon-Kanouff said. “There are some real mega issues that she has agreed to tackle. I really respect her for doing that because she is overwhelmed with her time commitments at Bright House and what they’re taking on.”

BRIGHT HOUSE BLOSSOMS
On the technology front, last year was a busy one for Bergman in particular, and for BHN in general. While Bergman’s industry-wide initiatives were important, she had to balance them with the day-to-day operations at the nation’s sixth-largest cable operator.

Not surprisingly, Bergman, her team and Bright House as a whole excelled in 2008.

Last year, Bright House picked up its first J.D. Power and Associates award for being the top-ranked high-speed Internet provider in the South Region based on J.D. Power’s customer satisfaction study.

Earlier in 2008, Bright House was rated highest in customer satisfaction by J.D. Power for its telephone service, which marked the third time it had garnered the highest phone ranking in the region.

“In our few short years as Bright House Networks, we’ve won three awards as a telephone provider and one for Internet provider, and certainly Nomi had a lot to do with that,” Steve Miron said. “She does everything from providing a great network to making sure our services run in a very reliable fashion. Probably one of the best things that Nomi does is build a team. She has built a phenomenal team, and I think that has a lot to do with those awards.”

Bright House Networks rolled out the biggest deployment of Start Over last year in its Tampa Bay system. Currently, Bright House customers in Tampa Bay can re-start 74 channels, while the company is working on rights issues for additional Start Over content, including more programs and premium channels in HD.

Bright House has worked with the former Time Warner Cable Mystro team on the elements of Start Over, which Bergman said increased Tampa Bay’s digital video streaming traffic by 100 percent in one year, but that will be offset by approximately 50 percent when the company gets switched digital video fully deployed.
Bright House over-provisioned its Tampa system in anticipation of more HD and HD VOD content.

From a customer standpoint, Bergman said Start Over, along with Caller ID on TV, is a solid example of the type of service cable operators should be offering their customers.

Bergman plays a key role in the
cable industry and as Bright House
Networks’ president.

“It’s a very intuitive product for people to use that provides more spontaneous access to programming that our customers would otherwise not have available to them,” she said. “Our company likes the model of deploying new features that are easy to use and make their experience of using our products more compelling.”

BHN started introducing Caller ID on TV to its customers three years ago, and last year it finished rolling out the service to all of its divisions. After some initial doubts, Bergman became a firm believer in Caller ID on TV.

“I have to admit, I was a little skeptical about it because I was thinking back to the days when I was a teenager. I would have felt horrified, if I was watching TV with my parents, and one of my friend’s names was displayed across the TV,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite products that we’ve deployed because it’s so intuitive and useful. I have also enjoyed watching our customers’ behavior change – when the phone rings, the first thing they do is look at the TV.”

Bergman said customers have expressed a great deal of satisfaction with the service, including her father, who is now able to more easily check his caller log on his TV.

“From an operator’s standpoint, it’s one of my favorites because it was just a great added value for our customers,” she said. “We didn’t charge anything extra for it, and we offered it to any customers who had digital phone and digital video. It’s a great sticky application, and it’s a productive cross-platform application, and I like that. I know it’s really simple, but I think it’s a good example of the kind of thing we should be doing more of.”

Going forward, BHN is looking into offering a Caller ID on PC service.

BHN also deployed its Compass Navigator in its Tampa Bay; Orlando; Birmingham, Ala.; and Bakersfield, Calif.; divisions last year. Bergman said Compass was an element of the Mystro Digital Navigator that runs on top of Tampa’s SARA (Scientific Atlanta Resident Application) navigation. Compass takes subscribers off of SARA via quick links to other BHN services.

Bright House has also deployed the Mystro Digital Navigator and OCAP Digital Navigator in a number of its systems, as well as tru2way-enabled set-top boxes.

On the interactive front, BHN has installed technology from Navic that enables voting, polling and targeted advertising in all of its divisions, while EBIF trials are underway in Orlando.

Another forward-thinking feature from Bright House is Quick Clips, which launched in Indianapolis last year.

Bergman said Quick Clips are short, VOD-like programs available directly on a given channel without having to tune to a VOD channel. The Enhanced TV menu offers a listing of links to Quick Clips, or other programming.

“For example, the Enhanced TV menu, while watching CNN, would have a listing for access to Quick Clips, CNN On Demand, CNN HD, CNN Headline News and CNN International,” she said. “Like Start Over, the customer will see an option on certain channels that states, ‘Press select for Enhanced TV.’”

THE BUILDING OF A CABLE CAREER
After graduating from the University of Rochester, where she majored in math, Bergman went to work for Arthur Andersen LLP, where she did consulting work, such as computer programming and system design, and helped build solutions that improved companies’ efficiencies.

“I enjoyed my work experience there, and I can see now that is where I first experienced what it was like to have a work ethic,” she said. “The consultants at Arthur Andersen were dedicated and passionate, and they had a ‘can-do’ attitude about new projects. That was my first work experience, but, of course, I long watched my father, who always exhibited an unbelievable dedication to his work.”

Bergman said she never expected to work for her family’s Advance/Newhouse businesses, but eventually a cousin who worked as a systems group consultant for Advance/Newhouse properties convinced her to stop by and observe.

After moving over from Arthur Andersen in 1987, she worked on implementing the best practices from the various Advance/Newhouse entities, which at the time included magazines and newspapers that were owned by Advance Publications Systems Group, as well as the Newhouse cable companies.

Bergman began to build her foundation as a facilitator at Advance/Newhouse as the best practices from the different groups were implemented system-wide across the company to improve operational efficiencies.

Bergman’s systems group duties included working on integrating billing systems, which eventually drew the attention of her father, who was in charge of the Newhouse cable operations. With her father’s blessing, Bergman came up with a billing system that worked across all three of the cable properties, which were Vision Cable, MetroVision and NewChannels. Bergman started working full time for the cable properties in 1992.

From there, Bergman went on the road to update the billing systems at each system.

“I don’t recall precisely how many conversions we did – it was somewhere between 25 and 40. I visited each site several times,” she said. “It provided me with a great foundation for understanding cable operations, and I learned a lot about people. I was learning from watching how our good folks, in these operations, either struggled with or embraced this significant change. I have since tried to emulate those who I watched exhibit a ‘can-do’ attitude in challenging times.”

Bergman lived in hotels and hovered over fax machines as bill samples came fluttering in. She found out what worked best from different systems through a circular process of solving problems and rolled them up into best practices that were implemented across the cable properties.

In addition to learning about phone systems, Bergman came to appreciate the importance of standardization during her time working on billing conversion and at call centers, which she said helped her later in life in getting other entities to work together on large projects such as Canoe Ventures.

And instead of resting on her status as a family member of the business, she found that “accepting those gnarly tasks like billing conversion were the kind of projects that give you rich experience and help you grow.”

Bergman was working out of the Vision Cable office in New Jersey during the bulk of the billing conversions, but then moved to Charlotte, N.C., in late 1994 with her husband, Neal. After a few months in Charlotte, Advance/Newhouse merged with Time Warner Cable in 1995.

Bergman and her daughter Rebecca
Bergman and her daughter Rebecca pose together at last year's SkiTam event.

Over the course of the next 10 years, Bergman, as well as her brother Steve, was an employee of Time Warner Cable. Bergman was intrigued by high-speed data while in Charlotte and successfully applied for the position of vice president/general manager of Road Runner. Bergman said she still has a keen interest in data services dating from her Road Runner days, which led to her working with a senior leadership team at CableLabs on DOCSIS 3.0.

Advance/Newhouse took control of its joint cable operations with Time Warner Cable in 2003, which led to Bergman forming her own team.

“Obviously I’m a little biased, but I also think she recruits really well,” Orduna said. “It’s a Newhouse trait that in all of their companies, and not just cable, that they really put their employees first. It helps when the person who is recruiting is Nomi because I think she has a great eye for talent.”

In addition to Orduna, over the years Bergman’s core team comprised, among others, Jeff Chen, Kashif Haq, Leo Cloutier, Kristi Kramersmeier and Marva Brown Johnson.

“I learn and grow from them every day,” Bergman said. “They are, in my opinion, among our industry’s most talented individuals.”

Three years ago, Bergman put her past phone experience to good use when BHN became an independent CLEC after Verizon bought out MCI. Prior to the buyout, BHN used MCI and Sprint to outsource its telephone service delivery.

“Turning Bright House into an independent CLEC in every sense of the word is something she really spearheaded, and she did an amazing job,” TWC’s LaJoie said. “She did it in very short order, and she did it well by leveraging some of the work we had done together in the past. Nomi saw the opportunity there, and while there are some revenue benefits to doing it, it’s also pretty difficult and complex.”

Orduna said that in the early days at Bright House, Bergman carried her work in a backpack as the management team visited the various systems.

“Over the first few years that backpack got bigger and bigger and heavier and heavier, until finally it got to the point that it was basically as big as her and twice as heavy. I’m serious,” Orduna said. “We flew to one of our divisions, and the president met us at the airport. He reached down to pick up Nomi’s backpack and almost dislocated his shoulder. The reason it was so big was because it was essentially her office on her back, and that was really indicative of her dedication in putting the company first.”

A WOMAN IN FULL
Gordon-Kanouff said Bergman has opened up with the increasing responsibility of her positions, both at Bright House and as an industry leader, although her brother and LaJoie disagree that she was shy early on.

In an industry dominated by men, Bergman has been an effective facilitator with her peers.

“She operates pretty well in a man’s world,” Robert Miron said. “She’s been to China with the CTOs, and she has been with the CEOs. She’s generally the only woman in the group, and she has learned how to handle herself and gain everyone’s respect. When Nomi has something to say, people will listen.”

While Canoe Ventures and Clearwire are good examples of projects Bergman has helped shepherd, Orduna said she is also working with vendors and entities such as CableLabs behind the scenes on future projects and technologies.

“I think the most important thing is she is an active contributor,” CableLabs CEO Richard Green said. “Among the CTO group, she contributes actively to the strategic discussions, the technical discussions, and I can certainly confirm that she’s very capable of helping build a consensus and very often plays the role of consensus builder in the various fora that we see her in.”

LaJoie said Bergman has a clear understanding of technology and how it will impact a cable operator’s business at a number of different levels.

“Most of all, she’s an honest broker,” he said. “She sees what technology will do for our customers, but also for our capital expenses and what the regulatory impact might be. She’s got a very, very broad view, but at the same time, she’s really good at being impartial and laying all of the issues on the table.”

The Bergman family
The Bergman family pauses for a
group shot during a bicycling outing
last year. From left, Dori, 13, Allison, 8,
Nomi, husband Neal and Rebecca, 16.

KEEPING THE HOME FIRE BURNING
Bergman said she feels fortunate to work with her brother Steve because he not only supports, but also challenges her to do her best. She also said she has gained valuable insight on the cable industry by seeing it through her father’s eyes.

“He and my mother (Diane Miron) gave me a wonderful sense of heart, loyalty and dedication,” she said. “My father gave us a big picture of our industry and business. He showed us the benefit of hard work and dedication. Of course, I always feel like the cable industry is my extended family.”

Even though Bergman routinely burns the candle at both ends, she makes sure she dedicates time and effort to her family. Each year, Bergman lets her three daughters – Rebecca, Dori and Allison – pick a special one-on-one activity to do with her, which led to her camping in the Adirondacks with one of her daughters last summer.

“I’m not sure that camping is Nomi’s thing, but she carves out special time to do things with her kids that are just for them,” Steve said. “She’s a great mother, a great skier, and she makes it all work.

“I think she’s a good choice,” Steve said, referring to her selection as CED’s Person of the Year. “She is the only woman president of a top-10 MSO, and even though she has been in the middle of it for a lot of years, more people are just starting to recognize what she does.”

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