First woman executive vice president at Comcast

Cathy Avgiris is the first woman to be named an executive vice president in the core cable division at Comcast Corp. She has responsibility for $12 billion in Xfinity Internet and phone businesses, in addition to operational oversight of Comcast's discounted Internet service for poor families. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Cathy Avgiris is the first woman to be named an executive vice president in the core cable division at Comcast Corp. She has responsibility for $12 billion in Xfinity Internet and phone businesses, in addition to operational oversight of Comcast's discounted Internet service for poor families. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Posted: March 18, 2012

There's a glass stairway leading to the executive offices at the top of the Comcast Center, and the 52-year-old daughter of a Greek carpenter and seamstress from Brooklyn has climbed them to take her place with Brian, Neil, Dave, and the other cable guys.

Cathy Avgiris, whose prior employer was a forklift manufacturer in the Pennsylvania suburbs, was recently promoted to executive vice president with responsibility for $12 billion in Xfinity Internet and phone businesses, in addition to operational oversight of Comcast's discounted Internet service for poor families, marketed as Internet Essentials, and the consumer portion of the Comcast/Verizon Wireless venture.

Because she is the first woman to attain EVP status in the core cable division, the source of the cable giant's gushing profits, Avgiris' promotion is an acknowledgment of the importance of the two other "plays" in Comcast's "triple play" bundle - Internet and phone.

Comcast has added more than one million high-speed Internet customers in each of the last five years, trouncing the slower dial-up service offered by legacy phone companies and bringing its national subscriber base to 18.1 million Internet customers - it's the largest residential Internet provider in the nation. The company also has 9.3 million phone customers - it's the nation's fourth-largest phone-service provider, and the biggest outside the traditional Bells.

Though she rolled out both Internet and phone over the last decade, Avgiris' assignment these days is to stay ahead of the competition with faster and virus-free Internet and seamless WiFi. And, she added Friday, "I don't want the phone to be just another part of the triple play, so we are looking at a number of features to relaunch the phone product." An announcement could be made in the next several weeks.

Avgiris has a firm handshake and thinks of herself as a nuts-and-bolts problem-solver. One of the accomplishments she takes special pride in, she said, is quickening the pace of triple-play installations using time-and-motion studies of technicians, truck rolls, and call handling. Through "Project Minute Man," Comcast halved installation time to about two hours, which enabled the company to more quickly expand its triple play customers after introducing phone service in 2005.

She is one of several of women with prominent roles at the cable company. Amy Banse, a Comcast corporate executive formerly based in Philadelphia, runs the company's venture-capital arm in Silicon Valley, which has about 40 investments. Among the others are Marlene Dooner, investor relations; Kristine Dankenbrink, taxation; Cynthia Hook, auditing; D'Arcy Rudnay, corporate communications; Kathryn Zachem, regulatory affairs, and Melissa Maxfield, government affairs.

Meanwhile, at Comcast's NBCUniversal subsidiary, Bonnie Hammer and Lauren Zalaznick run multibillion-dollar entertainment portfolios of digital and cable-channel assets and report directly to NBCU head Steve Burke. Patricia Fili-Krushel is an executive vice president with oversight of various functions, including human resources and legal. She reports to Burke, too.

Brian Roberts, chief executive and chairman of Comcast, called Avgiris an "outstanding leader" and said the company was fortunate to have her. Avgiris reports to David Watson, chief operating officer of the cable division. Her counterpart who runs Xfinity video products is Marcien Jenckes.

Avgiris' parents, Irene and Louis, were Greek immigrants from Turkey. They lived in a Brooklyn apartment next to a movie theater when Cathy was a baby, relocating later to a home in Brooklyn's Bay Ridge section. Avgiris thought she wanted to be an interior designer. But her dad, the carpenter, saw the profession could be a rat race. He told her to be an accountant - a profession all small-business owners needed, and one that could provide a good living. She got her degree at Baruch College.

In 1981, she moved to the Philadelphia area when her husband, an industrial engineer, took a job with Merck at the pharmaceutical company's West Point complex. They have two grown sons.

Avgiris found a job as chief financial officer of a forklift manufacturer, Drexel Material Handlings Inc. in Horsham, that had a patent that allowed it to operate in narrow corridors. Avgiris wore many hats at the small, publicly traded company: controller, CFO, head of human resources, and corporate secretary.

After that firm's founder sold it, Avgiris joined Comcast in June 1992 as a regional chief financial officer.

Back then, it had about two million cable-TV subscribers.

"I've grown up with the company, " Avgiris said.

Contact Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@phillynews.com.

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