In an exclusive interview with the Greek Reporter Cathy Avgiris talks about her new position at Comcast, the future of the industry, her love for Greece and what to expect from the communication giants. Avgiris was born in Brooklyn but her parents are Greeks from Istanbul. The successful Greek-American who has been called the queen of convergence is responsible for the first triple play programs in the communication field and from she will be the new Chief Financial Officer of Comcast Cable starting July 1st.
Where is your family from?
Both my parents were born in Istanbul but my mother is originally from Tenos.
Are you keeping in touch with your roots?
I haven’t been to Istanbul for years and it is on my list to go there and take my children with me. I’ve only gone there once, when I was 10 years old. But in Greece I used to go there as a child often but my parents couldn’t afford to send me to Greece every year. Most of the family my parents had were in Euboea and Athens. My husband is Greek, from Lesvos. My kids have grown there, we go there every summer.
You said your family wasn’t wealthy but you have achieved the American dream. How do you feel?
Unfortunately my father passed away 10 years ago and my mother a year and a half ago. They weren’t able to really understand my recent success. My father was a carpenter, my mother was a seamstress, neither one of them actually finished grade school because they had to help the family. My father had his own workshop, my mother had her own seamstress shop. But I knew all along that my father was proud for my progress although he did not always understand, it was difficult to explain to him exactly what I did (like explaining terms, which was not the easiest thing).
How many children do you have?
I have two boys Constantinos (Dean) and Christoforos, aged 28 and 23 respectively.
Could you please explain your current position and work for Comcast because the names are a bit complicated. You are going to be overseeing serious projects but what is it exactly that you do?
Right now I’m the executive Vice President and General Manager of Communications and Data Services. We provide video services to consumers, broadband Internet, voice services, for both residential and commercial customers. My responsibilities are i-how and TNL responsibilities for the companies and internet voice wireless and services.
What kind of projects have you headed these years as a senior VP?
Under my leadership we launched our voice product, voice internet protocol to beat what was traditionally out there. We are now the largest competitive phone provider in the country compared to telephone companies. Traditionally consumers buy telephone services from the telephone companies. We changed that dynamic, we combined all three products to a triple play. We were among the first to promote video, high-speed data and voice. On the internet side we’ve been the tremendous group we have always been providing the fastest and safest internet services around the country and we have a wide portfolio of speed tube depending on what consumers want. Most recently we are very proud of being able to launch internet essentials, which is a low-cost broadband product intended for more low-income families with school age children paid by the National School Program and our goal there is to help bridge the digital divide and bring more kids of this generation and future generations closer to internet based education, for example help them do school work.
Traditional phone vs. voice over Internet. The second one was not reliable in the past but do you believe that eventually the internet will eliminate traditional telephones?
One clarification: our phone service is not voice over the internet it is voice internet protocol. It is a more high quality service than voice over internet products. We use the internet protocol and can deliver exceptional quality service at a value for our customers. It’s hard to say whether traditional phone companies will continue to serve their phone customers. Nobody is expecting them to be entering the video but competition makes everyone better. Of course in the USA things may be different from other parts of the world but at least a 70-75% of American households still have a wired phone service. And that’s the market share we want to compete for.
Why haven’t we seen as much growth of satellite internet? Could we eliminate the wires in the future and work totally with satellites in communications?
I’m not sure that satellite broadband meets the needs of the consumers and it is exceptionally expensive to put up a satellite obviously. Satellite broadband serves a need for very scarcely populated areas of the country, where there is no need for structure. In a lot of the communities that we serve across 39 states, we have already built a network and have invested some billion dollars in broadband network and continue to improve the speeds for customers. We provide a really good service, so I don’t foresee the need in the immediate future to eliminate the broadband. There are more uses for broadband than ever before.
Would you be interested in considering the satellite prospect?
That is not really our business model.
What do you think about the prices of the internet? Will they change?
The market always dictates what consumers are willing to pay for quality service and we compete with a number of different options for consumers to meet their broadband needs. And we compete very fiercely in every market, try to do the best job, provide the best service and competitive reach.
What about Greece and the networks there? What is your understanding of the situation?
I am not proficient in understanding the Greek network infrastructure. As an individual I know that especially on the island of Mytilene, where my husband comes from, the broadband infrastructure is not what it is in the USA. I don’t know if there is the same demand for higher broadband speed there as here, so I really cannot comment.
What is the vision you want to implement once you become the chief financial officer on July 1, 2013?
Comcast corporation has two main divisions, the DC universal and the cable division. My position as chief financial officer is of the cable division and there is a tradition in the cable division of promoting into that chief financial officer people who have a combination of operational and financial experience, which I believe I bring to the table and continue the tradition. My goals are to be a strategic partner to the president of the cable division and help meet and exceed the strategy of the cable division.
What was your first job with Comcast?
When I was hired by Comcast I was in field operations, that means the company’s top offices are reached geographically and so I was hired as a regional VP of finance for the Northeast region covering between Philadelphia and northern NJ. My role was to help the team there, acquire subscribers, manage the finances of the region and prepare business plans.
Is it tough to be one of the few women in such high-ranking positions in the industry?
I think that is changing. I don’t even think about it anymore. I become accustomed to generally being the only woman in the room. Especially here in Comcast, there are many women and people of color who are rising to the management, and I think this is good for Comcast and the community because it reflects the customers that we serve.
Are you going this summer to Mytilene with your family?