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Learning to appreciate each moment

Q: What are some of the special strengths you bring to the job?
A: Believing that anything is possible. Turning challenges into opportunities. Creating something out of nothing. Watching something grow. Knowing that the more you give, the more you receive. That … everybody is responsible for the results of his or her own actions. To have a vision and communicate it very well. And empathy–to feel what somebody else is feeling, and to anticipate their needs.
Q: What is the single most rewarding aspect of your work?
A: Watching people grow, take on more responsibilities, get promoted in the company. Just to name a few, two receptionists here have moved on to the accounting and programming departments; and a former mailing-room clerk is now a producer/director. That attracts other people to the company, creates opportunity and strengthens the station.
Q: What is the most discouraging or difficult thing about the job?
A: I really can’t say discouraging. One of the tougher things is the levels of stress we all go through, because that impacts our lives so much. We look at challenges as opportunities. We’re always evolving into something else, taking the next step. That’s demonstrated when we look at where Fox has come from, from 1986 with “The Joan Rivers Show” at 11 p.m. to seven nights of prime, with “X-Files” and “Melrose Place,” the Super Bowl, the World Series.
We’ve had tremendous growth over the last seven years, which I’m very proud of, because we’ve done it collectively. But we haven’t reached our pinnacle yet. We’re dominant in our region for Fox affiliates for ratings, but we’d like to be dominant in a larger region. We’re always finding a new challenge, another level to conquer.
Q: How do you respond to charges about television’s contribution to the breakdown of society?
A: I think we’re all responsible as individuals, the way we live our lives. If I saw a violent act on TV or in a movie, or read about it in a book, that wouldn’t make me become violent. Before television there were books, and I don’t think anyone can say that a book caused someone to commit a violent act.
Q: Who has influenced you most greatly to be where you are today?
A: I have always been impressed with people who have been able to create a great success with a very large entity, like Peter Ueberroth with the Olympics, or Lee Iacocca in the automotive field. People who’ve taken large, cumbersome organizations and realigned them with a vision, and taken that vision to the managers and people, and taken the company to new heights.
Q: By looking closely at those people, can you pinpoint the characteristics that enabled them to achieve their successes?
A: I guess they were undaunted by the immensity of the challenge. (They) sifted through all the details to define a vision and communicate that to everyone, and got them moving in a common direction. That’s the key: distilling all the details that can complicate a challenge.
Q: How do you perceive the special contribution of your life to the world, to the people around you?
A: It gives me great pleasure to be associated with a successful company like this, which gives me the ability to make a difference in the community. I’m always balancing two things: serving the community (through entertainment) and running a really strong company and overachieving cash flow. Each one depends on the other.
We work very closely with the Boys and Girls Club. It’s so important to give children an alternative to existing on the streets after school. We have the ability, through our production department, to create a fund-raising tape, for example, that the club’s CEO can use to go out and raise money. Or to create a series of public-service announcements, which we air and then copy to give to the other stations in town to enlighten the community. As an individual, I could never do that. Having a staff of talented people (who can produce those results) is very rewarding to me. I can’t separate that professional part of me from my personal life.
Q: How do you describe your leadership style?
A: I have an open-door policy, and there’s always someone in here. We’re constantly looking at our goals and deciding how we’re going to get there, problem solving together, adjusting along the way. Something’s working, because we’ve had continuous growth in ratings, revenue and cash flow. We’ve had a lot of stability among the management staff. When people have a forum to discuss issues and we’re all on the same team, I think that’s a pretty great formula for success.
I learned early on that not one person can have all the answers. I encourage (my people) to stick by the way they feel.
One philosophy we try to spread through the station is that making mistakes is not a bad thing. We’re going to post this quote in our kitchen: “Expect the best. Convert problems into opportunities. Be dissatisfied with the status quo. Focus on where you want to go, instead of where you’ve come from. Most importantly, decide to be happy, knowing it’s an attitude, a habit gained from daily practice and not a result or a payoff.”
Q: Have you found, over the last seven years, that you’ve had to make changes in the way you relate to people?
A: I hope so. It’s a constant learning process, isn’t it? I hope that I never lose the ability to look inside myself because it’s so important for personal growth.
I’m impatient; I like things to get done quickly. I’m my own biggest critic. I expect a lot, but I always hope that I’m fair. My goals for myself are very high, so of course they’re going to be very high for the station.
Q: What value do you think business could use more of?
A: “Empathy” is probably the first word that comes to mind. Empathy is the ability to see the other side, to see where the other individual is coming from. Some people might see empathy as a weakness, but I think it’s a strength.
Q: In getting that feedback, how frequently do you hear something that takes you aback?
A: All the time. Allowing people to be open about how they feel, to bring different ideas, to think outside the square is so important. It’s how you achieve greatness and continued, consistent growth. And that’s what we’re here for.
Q: Can you describe a dilemma you encountered on the job recently that really challenged some deeply held values?
A: We did have one individual who had been making life unusually difficult for the people around him. Initially, I didn’t see the behavior, and I downplayed the information I was getting. But eventually it became clear I would have to intervene.
My husband–for whom I have great respect and who gives me balance in my life–was the first one to say he didn’t think the problem was fixable. When it hit me that I couldn’t change what was happening here–because of the employee’s choice, not mine–the first thing I thought about was how (termination) would affect his family, his children. I lost a lot of sleep over that. People are my greatest asset, but (sometimes) they’re also very difficult to deal with.
Q: You mention using your husband as a resource. Are there other activities that you engage in outside the workplace that fortify you for dealing with those difficult issues?
A: My goal–and it’s very hard for me to get there–is to balance several things: physical exercise; spending time alone to get everything in alignment; intellectual stimulation inside and outside work; a focus on positive emotional attitudes, and being aware that I can control mine; a form of spirituality–knowing that there’s a higher being, a greater order–and trying to find time, in my own quiet way, to pursue that.
Q: Have you always had the attitude that happiness is a choice?
A: I think you learn it along the way, gradually. I’m a breast-cancer survivor. It certainly changed my life and, I’m glad to say, for the better. It made me so much more aware of the importance of the moment. Someone once said to me, “The past is history, the future is a mystery, and this moment is a gift. That’s why this moment is called “the present.”’
My first of two bouts with breast cancer was in 1992, at age 44. I’d known my (future husband, Thomas Bonadio) only about six weeks when I was diagnosed. He was right there for me. Very early on, I knew he was very special. He’s a real inspiration for me; he’s my rock.
After the first surgery, I felt another lump. We thought it was scar tissue, and it didn’t show up on a mammogram or sonogram. It turned out to be another primary tumor, and I decided to have a double mastectomy, so I would never have to worry about having breast cancer again.
One of my mentors through all this was a terrific woman named Shari Hall-Smith, who had had a double mastectomy shortly before I met her. Here was living proof: She came through with flying colors, looks great, feels great. She went on to have a baby after that. Wasn’t I lucky to have a friend like that who gave me the courage and strength to make that choice for myself?
Going through something like this is really a test of your mettle. I wouldn’t say I’m glad it happened, but I’m glad it turned out the way it did, and I’m glad I gained as much as I did.
Q: Did it change your priorities?
A: It certainly reshuffled a few–how important that balance in life is. It brought out, very early on in my relationship with my husband, how solid and dependable he is. It also has brought me much closer to women who are going through the same thing, and I want to reach out to them. I love giving my strength to them.
I didn’t know too many (cancer survivors) when I first went through it. I turned to researching, to get enough information to make my decision (about treatment). There are so many decisions that the average person is not qualified or prepared to make during that very emotional time. I’d never been faced with death before. It’s the most shocking thing I’ve ever been through.
You learn quickly how to take care of yourself. I chose not to have chemotherapy or radiation. I decided I would rather heal myself by getting in touch with my body, eating right, having a great attitude, balancing stress, being responsible for the results of all my actions–that’s what’s going to keep me on my course.
Still, there’s always a chance that an errant cell is latent somewhere, and that’s something I’ll live with the rest of my life. It keeps my focus pretty strong. It makes that gift–that present–so much more special.

(If you would like to be the subject of a future interview on bringing meaning to work, please contact Rose Ericson at 223-4476 or [email protected] As always, we welcome Letters to the Editor.)

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