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Time Warner

Ann Burr:
Time Warner

Before making her first trip to Rochester last month, Ann Burr checked out the Weather Channel from her San Diego office. Not surprisingly, the forecast was for snow.
“I thought I’d better go buy some boots with tread so I don’t break my neck the first day I’m there,” she recalls with a smile.
Those boots came in handy again last week, as Burr–who has lived much of her life in San Diego and Honolulu– plowed through snow-shrouded city streets to the Time Warner Communications building on Mt. Hope Avenue.
Rochester in January is a far, cold cry from the balmy breezes of San Diego, but Burr believes that change is good. Change is certainly in the air for the new president of Time Warner Communications in Rochester–and not just in the form of snow.
Despite the chill outside, the local division of Time Warner Cable is sizzling.
No longer just a cable company, Time Warner Communications is transforming into a full-service telecom firm, soon able to offer residential phone service, cellular services and high-speed data services. The company already markets a range of local telephone services–from voice mail to Centrex–to Rochester-area businesses, competing with the likes of Frontier Corp.
Because this unit is the first cable company in the nation to compete in the local telephone market–using its fiber-optic cable network to transmit local phone service–all eyes are peeled on its performance.
Until late last year, Frank Chiaino steered the firm through these uncharted waters, as it ran technology trials, cross-trained employees and began signing up residential customers.
When Chiaino retired in November, the 40-something Burr was tapped for the job.
“If Rochester is going to be the showcase for Time Warner … she’s the perfect person to lead that effort,” says Terry Churchill, a colleague from the Time Warner operations in San Diego. “She’s a natural-born leader.”
Slim and statuesque–and a self-described workaholic–Burr seems energized by her new role.
“I’m excited about being in Rochester,” she says, folding her hands atop an uncluttered, president-sized desk. “It’s a tremendous opportunity in terms of cutting-edge technology and services we’re developing here that aren’t being developed anywhere else in the country.”
The company, which employs roughly 500 workers, plans to offer cellular service early this year; cellular service currently is sold through another Time Warner unit. Internet access should be available by mid- to late-1996.
Well-grounded in both the cable and telephone industries, Burr most recently led the San Diego division, Time Warner Cable’s sixth-largest unit with more than 200,000 subscribers. When she stepped into that post in 1986, she was the first female president of a Time Warner Cable division.
Burr took the lead in blurring the line that traditionally has divided the cable and telephone industries.
During her tenure in San Diego, the unit built from scratch one of Time Warner’s first ventures into the alternative access business, providing point-to-point telephone service for business customers.
Burr also was a founding member of the San Diego Communications Council, a group that assembled broadcasters, cable operators and telephone providers to explore the future of technology and public policy in the communications industry.
“Ten years ago, we were talking about things like high-definition television and convergence of technology and walls coming down between industries so that we could compete in each others’ lines of business,” she says. “And that’s all playing out now. I’ve always had an interest in the future … and in developing plans to get there.”
To carry her company into the future, Burr likely will draw on her team-building skills, former colleagues say.
“A lot of CEOs tend to micromanage and screw things up,” says Gilbert Partida, president and CEO of the Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce. “That’s not Ann.
“She doesn’t have a huge ego that often accompanies someone in that position,” he adds.
Churchill says Burr brings people on board with a positive, we-can-do-it attitude.
“When you team up with her, there’s no negativity,” he says.
Born in Logan, Utah, Burr moved frequently throughout the Southwest during her childhood. The eldest of five children, Burr describes herself as a “fiercely independent” child, whose peripatetic life made her adept at adapting to new environments.
Burr’s mother was a musician who at one point hosted her own radio show in Utah. Her father made his mark as the winningest coach in tennis history, earning a spot in the national tennis hall of fame.
“He was very bright, very successful, very aggressive,” Burr says. “To him, winning was everything. I may have a little bit of that in me.”
Burr returned to Logan for college, graduating from Utah State University with a bachelor’s degree in 1968.
Her entry into the telecom business was more a matter of happenstance than design. With a degree in French and English, Burr had planned to be a high school teacher, but posts in that field proved scarce. Instead, she landed a job with Mountain Bell Telephone Co. in its office operations.
In 1975, she moved to Hawaii, taking a job with Ma Bell’s Hawaiian Telephone Co. Her stay there was short-lived.
“I could see that they didn’t promote people based on competency but based on seniority,” she says.
So when the local cable company went on a hiring binge later that year, Burr jumped at the chance to sign on, taking a job with the Time Warner subsidiary Oceanic Cablevision Inc.
At that time, Oceanic still was a small operation, with only 11,000 customers in its fold; the division now is one of the largest in the nation. Burr was attracted to the progressive, innovative environment she found there.
“It was a wonderful opportunity to be part of a new, young industry and to ride that wave, both from a technology standpoint and in terms of just growing the business, becoming a sophisticated, mature industry over time,” she says.
In her 11 years at Oceanic, Burr rose through the ranks, at various points taking charge of data-processing, human resources, government and community relations, customer billing and public relations.
“I was very aggressive in terms of wanting to move up within the organization,” she admits. “In order to do that, I needed to give myself as much experience as possible in every area of the business.
“I feel like you have to do your job 150 percent, you need to have a portfolio of experiences so that you are competitive when professional opportunities open up. You need to position yourself competitively with your male counterparts, which I always tried to do.”
Under her watch, Oceanic developed the industry’s first online billing system. Burr also helped put in place the first audio response system to handle pay-per-view calls, enabling customers to use their touchtone phones to order that cable feature.
At the same time, Burr’s family was growing, too. With two small children, a full-time job and a third child on the way, Burr decided to head back to school.
“I was real committed to advancing myself, and I knew to position myself competitively I needed to have the business degree,” she recalls. “But I kept getting pregnant, and that was my excuse for not starting on my MBA that year. Finally, when I was pregnant with my third, I said: “I’m just going to go do this.’ I had my third son in-between semesters.”
Burr attended night classes at Chaminade University of Honolulu and hit the books on weekends. She graduated with an MBA degree in 1985.
“It sounds strange, but you just sort of manage your time,” Burr insists. “You get it done if it’s important to you, and it was to me. I think people can do whatever they make up their minds to do.”
By the mid-1980s, Burr was vice president of operations for Oceanic. Then in 1986, Time Warner offered her the president’s post in San Diego.
In addition to guiding that division’s four operations–Southwestern Cable TV in San Diego, American Cablevision in Coronado, Warner Cable in Palm Springs and Warner Cable in Barstow–she played a high-profile role in the community.
Last year, she chaired the board of directors for the Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce and was a board member of San Diego Gas & Electric Co.
A farewell luncheon held in Burr’s honor–which drew some 400 people on a day declared Ann Burr Day by the mayor–reflects her standing in the community, Churchill says.
“It was the biggest tribute I’ve ever seen,” says Churchill, who competed against Burr as area vice president for Pacific Bell before being recruited by her to head Time Warner’s competitive access business.
“You stole a community asset–Rochester should be very pleased,” Partida says. “Everyone was sad to see Ann leave.”
Before getting involved in the Rochester community, Burr is focusing her energies on finding a home and moving her two sons–Matt, 16, and Andrew, 13–to the area. Son Jon, 22, attends Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Bunnell, Fla.
Burr also is getting up to speed with Rochester’s Time Warner operations. That includes integrating the local properties of Cablevision Industries Inc., acquired by Time Warner in a deal that closed this month. The added properties will boost the subscriber base here by 90,000, raising its total to nearly 300,000 customers.
Burr’s new life leaves little time for golfing, a sport she took up a few years ago. And replicating her rose garden in San Diego will have to wait, too.
As she looks to her future, Burr sees a continued tenure in the cable industry.
“Twenty years ago, the big news was putting HBO on a satellite,” she muses. “I’d say the era we’re about to move into, a more competitive era taking advantage of new technology, is riding a second wave that will be a boon to consumers.
“I believe we’re about to ride that second wave, and I very much want to be a part of that.”
Then she offers this parting insight: “I was in Hawaii, then San Diego and now Rochester. It’s probably going to get progressively colder wherever I go.”


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