Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Most Likely to Succeed

Kay grew up in a working class neighborhood of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was a go-getter from day one.  At the age of five, she learned that her family was moving to a new house three miles away (which meant changing schools mid-year), and undertook her first serious negotiation.

Kay told her father how nice it was that they’d have a new home, but explained that she couldn’t move with them, because she needed to finish the year and graduate with her kindergarten class.  She first suggested staying with her grandmother in a neighborhood near her school, to which her father’s answer was, “you’re moving, and that’s that.”  Kay acquiesced, and then responded by asking for an increase in her allowance to cover the fare for her to take the city bus back to her old school.  Kay’s father was stunned by the audacity of his five-year-old daughter’s request, but ultimately said yes. 

The trust that her parents showed by letting her make decisions about her life at a young age helped Kay grow up independent and confident.  She was a competitive student, graduated valedictorian of her high school, and was voted “Most Likely to Succeed.”  

During college, Kay attended a compelling lecture on the world of geosynchronous orbiting satellites.  A few years later, she got a job in a TV studio while working her way through graduate school.  She became increasingly interested in the potential implications of satellite communications on television, and wrote her Master's thesis on the impact programming delivered via satellite could have on governments, cultures, and human rights.

Following a stint as a freelance writer, Kay went to work for UA-Columbia, one of the many small cable television companies attempting to establish itself in America.  At the time, cable television was something of a backwater industry, because the average viewer had no interest in paying for more programming when they already got three networks for free.  Nevertheless, Kay was young, ambitious, and believed in cable’s potential.  She also felt that the capabilities of satellite communications would open up the sharing of knowledge and information around the world, and that cable TV would be the perfect place for it to do so.  Soon, she would have the chance to prove it.

After a few years, Kay’s division was eliminated.  As she considered her next move, Kay came upon the small HBO cable network.  HBO had been a client of Kay’s, and was still sending programs out to regional stations on physical video tapes.  However, the network was advocating loudly for government approval to begin using satellites to transmit their programming.  That same year, the President of The Philippines successfully petitioned to host the third boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in his capital city.  It was one of the most anticipated sporting events ever, and given its location on the other side of the world, it would be the perfect chance to show the power of satellite broadcasting.

In 1975, Kay and HBO transmitted “The Thrilla in Manila” more than 90,000 miles via satellite to a broadcast station in Vero Beach, Florida.  It was the first such broadcast ever, and it was shown to more than 200 senators and congressmen to demonstrate, beyond any doubt, that satellite transmission was the future of television.  The assembled group instantly understood the impact of being able to bring any program into the homes of cable subscribers from anywhere in the world instantaneously, and soon after, the use of satellites for commercial broadcasting was officially sanctioned.

Kay Koplovitz moved forward to co-found the Madison Square Garden Sports Network, becoming the first female network president in television history.  Prior to this, professional sports had only been televised locally, but Kay acquired the rights to broadcast all sporting events from Madison Square Garden, then negotiated contracts with Major League Baseball, the NBA, and the NHL  Gradually, she also introduced other non-sports programming, ultimately re-branding the company as The USA Network.  She was so successful that, twenty years after she started the network, she sold it for over 4 billion dollars!

I had the privilege of meeting Kay two weeks ago when she was inducted into the Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame.  When I asked her to share some advice with my readers, she said, “Set your sights high and pursue your dreams with enthusiasm and boundless energy!”  So take Kay’s advice and aim for the moon, because even if you fall short, you’ll still land among the stars.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

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