Mission Control

Barnard intends to make Cox's Mid-America a winner

Janet Barnard is job-positive. Whatever she does is an improvement over the family business, raising hogs. The regional manager of Cox Communications' Middle America division grew up on a Nebraska farm. With 300 hogs. Years later, she married her high school sweetheart, whose aspiration was to raise hogs. 1,500 of them. "I can still smell it," she says.

Today, Barnard prefers to bring home the bacon. In January, she was tapped to run Cox's largest division, cable systems serving 800,000 subscribers in seven states, including Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Arkansas. Yet the properties are Cox's least impressive systems. Cox executives like to boast of their sizeable system clusters in places like San Diego, Orange County, Calif., and New Orleans, markets where Cox is the dominant cable operator and aggressively rolling out new services.

By contrast, Barnard's systems are scattered across rural and small-town markets, where a 30,000-subscriber property is big and many systems serve just a few thousand. The properties are primarily ones Cox picked up in its $4 billion takeover of TCA Cable TV. Most are limited to just 50-60 conventional cable channels, rather than the 100 or more, plus high-speed Internet, that most big-market systems carry. Thus, Barnard mission is massive.

She is reorienting how the systems are managed. Since buying TCA in 1999, management has been driven by engineering, not business
needs. Enter Barnard's new reclassification model, listing her 300-plus systems by demographics, such as housing growth, income, employment, and DBS penetration. Capital and ad spending will go to markets with the best growth characteristics, rather than their proximity to optical-fiber backbones. Marketing, pricing, and promotion tactics will be tailored to markets—largely by local managers, rather than by HQ in Tyler, Texas.

"My goal is to turn [Mid-America] into the kind of growth operation that the rest of Cox is," she says, noting that 18,000 new homes—the best source of growth for any cable operator—were built in the Mid-America division's towns last year. Cox garnered 1,000 of those; the rest went to DBS.

Her aggressive approach surprised even Cox's bosses in Atlanta headquarters. But Cox Senior Vice President Janet Campbell says Barnard's perspective was a big reason she was promoted. "I looked around the organization, says Campbell, "and said [we need] the best leader and strategist."

In the bargain, Campbell also got an accountant. Barnard is the only one of her five siblings to earn a degree. She initially headed for the East Coast but returned and later married Bryan. Buying a farm in 1983 proved disastrous. After two tough years, they sold at a loss and took dead-end jobs. "My husband came home one night and said, 'Go out and look for a job. Look anywhere.'"

She did. Eventually, she landed at Cox's Macon, Ga. So Barnard, her husband, and the first of two children relocated, then later moved to Cox's Gainesville, Fla., system. The head of customer service left in 1993, and Barnard stepped in. Later, Cox offered her a job in Omaha, one of its hottest markets. The telephone company now known as Qwest had built a competitive cable system, spurring Cox to use Omaha as the test bed for new product. It was among the earliest systems in the industry to deploy telephone, digital video, and high-speed data.

Barnard now spends most of her time on the road, part of a quest to visit all 300-plus systems and meet every employee. "It's been energizing. People say, 'I've have never met anybody from the corporate office.' They're just excited."

So is Barnard, who credits accounting with enhancing her current post. "To this day, I can glance at an income statement or bunch of stats and see where the hot buttons are."