Alicin Reidy Williamson, winner of this year's Vanguard Young Leadership Award, has come a long way from her first job as a 16-year-old grill cook at Friendly's, where one of her proud accomplishments was learning “how to make the perfect Swiss patty melt.”
She has a slightly more complicated job today. For nine years, Reidy Williamson, 38, has worked at MTV Networks, where she is senior VP of corporate responsibility and public affairs. She recently also became chair of the board of directors of the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications (NAMIC).
She impressed Manish Jha, a former ESPN executive and Reidy Williamson's predecessor on the board, who appointed her to the executive committee.
“There are a lot of thoughtful and intelligent people on the NAMIC board, but she stood out to me as one of those people who is mostly quieter. Doesn't say a lot, but when she speaks, she speaks with both authority and insight,” says Jha, CEO of Vantrix, a Montreal-based mobile-media and marketing firm.
Jenny Alonzo, who was Jha's predecessor as NAMIC chair, speaks of Reidy Williamson's quiet power: “She has a way of being able to get consensus in very difficult situations, which is a great quality to bring to the table.”
Of her tasks at both NAMIC and MTV, Reidy Williamson says, “My job is to open doors, identify resources and create access.”
She defines corporate responsibility as “taking the role the company has in the living room and being able to also add in important topics and issues.”
For instance, the “One Country” effort on Country Music Television is designed to foster volunteerism and good citizenship. MTV features “Break the Addiction,” a “green” effort meant to make young viewers aware that their consumer habits can help break what President Bush has termed this nation's “addiction to oil.”
The campaigns are a “great way for us to galvanize our audience on the ground, talk to them on-air and online, and then provide resources for the audience to tap into,” says Reidy Williamson.
Prior to MTV, she worked for the Children's Defense Fund and the Fund for the City of New York.
“I made the switch because I was asked to help build this department and make it more of an operating foundation of sorts in order to have a larger, stronger impact with our dollars and really put ourselves on a map as an entity that believes in corporate responsibility,” she says.
Besides, she adds, “it was MTV. What could be more exciting than that?”
But Alonzo makes clear that Reidy Williamson is a businessperson first. “[Even though] the scope of her responsibility at MTV Networks is from the social side, I think that she understands the need to tie the two together. Any cause won't get anywhere without the right business justification.”
MTV Networks donates $2,500-$50,000 annually to a slew of organizations, from Habitat for Humanity to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. She declines to provide details on the company's cash contributions but says that perhaps as valuable to some organizations is simply “providing on-air awareness.”
MTV helps in other ways. “Depending on what the organization needs, we tap into the expertise of people here,” she says. “That has actually been a great way of getting employees connected and building that relationship.” For example, MTV helped NAMIC put together its jobs bank.
Navigating the sometimes competing interests of networks and operators will be part of Reidy Williamson's responsibility as NAMIC chair, a post she has recently begun to fully take up following a maternity leave.
Jha describes the ongoing challenge: “We've had topics where the programmers view the world and the industry in one way and the operators view the industry and the world in a slightly different way. I should say a dramatically different way.” He appreciates “the balanced kind of approach that Alicin brings to the discussion.”
Reidy Williamson downplays whatever inherent tension may exist on the NAMIC board. “The good news is that the competing demands are a lot fewer than the non-competing goals of operators and programmers. I think everyone is really interested in diversifying their company and being stronger as a result. ... When the eye is on the prize of having a beautiful mosaic within the company, we are all on the same page.”
And how does her “Young Leadership” honor makes her feel? “Well, I often feel young,” Reidy Williamson says, laughing. “Whether or not I feel like a young leader, it depends. My job is generally to put the company first and stay out of the shot.”