Patience urged in rise to the top, former HGTV head says

Patience urged in rise to the top, former HGTV head says

Keys to success outlined to Chattanooga women's leadership group

March 4th, 2015 by Mitra Malek in Business Around the Region

Sue Packard, co-founder and former chief operating officer of HGTV, talks to the Times Free Press before speaking at the Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute's 10th annual Impact Dinner.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

“I trusted my team implicitly."”
Susan Packard, co-founder of HGTV

Patience, Susan Packard learned, is good for business.

The co-founder of HGTV was so energized by her cable channel's success that in her early years as its chief operating officer she was at least once blinded by it.

At the age of 39, when she "still had growing up to do," HGTV purchased the Food Network, and Packard faced the question of how to run it.

"What I wanted to do was just the most expeditious thing: Let's just obliterate the senior team; let's just put our team in," she said Tuesday during a visit to Chattanooga and a speech to more than 550 women at Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute's 10th annual Impact Dinner.

HGTV was turning a profit moving into its fourth year; the industry standard is seven to 10 years.

"I trusted my team implicitly," Packard said. "I knew that if we could somehow extend their expertise into the food brand, we could do a great job."

Hold on, HGTV's CEO advised her. If that happens we'll lose a lot of institutional knowledge, he said.

So she paused.

"When I sat back, it occurred to me that he was absolutely right," Packard said. Two decades later, some Food Network staff from back then are still with the company.

Packard, though, left the corporate world altogether four years ago -- "It's slow, heavy with process," she said -- but not without writing a book about her climb through it.

"New Rules of the Game: 10 Strategies for Women in the Workplace" is meant to show women they have choices, and Packard thinks it would be great if some ladies aimed for the c-suite. She believes that shift would make for more collaborative work environments.

Packard, who lives in Knoxville, mentored women in one form or another for three decades and, more recently, coaches them. A book on all that, she figured, "could reach more people," she said. Packard read from her book during Tuesday's event, one of many stops she's on to publicize her book. (Las Vegas is next).

Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute chose Packard to speak because women can relate to HGTV, said Mical A. Traynor, the nonprofit group's executive director. HGTV, owned by Scripps Networks Interactive, offers shows on home improvement, gardening and remodeling.

But that wasn't the main reason Packard headlined the leadership dinner.

"We choose our speakers to be women who are obviously successful and perhaps have overcome barriers," Traynor said. In Packard's case, she's a woman in a male-dominated industry, Traynor said.

Packard has been "on the ground floor," as she calls it, helping build media brands, including HBO and CNBC. HGTV became one of the fastest growing cable networks in television history during Packard's time leading the company. Packard helped build Scripps Networks Interactive, which owns HGTV, to a market value of over $10 billion, she notes in her bio.

CWLI's mission is to increase female leadership in Chattanooga, and the annual event shines a spotlight on the theme, Traynor said.

Past Impact Dinner speakers include feminist leader and Ms. magazine co-founder Gloria Steinem; Canada's first and only female prime minister, Kim Campbell; and Mae Carol Jemison, the first African-American woman to travel in space.

Last year, former television anchor Connie Chung spoke.

Contact staff writer Mitra Malek at mmalek@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter @MitraMalek.


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