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Women in the Workplace: Comcast CFO talks candidly about juggling personal life, work

By Jarreau Freeman

Cathy Avgiris, the new chief financial officer of Comcast Cable, has deep ties to Cheltenham.

When Cathy Avgiris was named chief financial officer of Comcast Cable earlier this month, she said she was proud of herself.

“The overwhelming support I have gotten from both men and women, I think, gives others the courage to try to seek new opportunities,” she said. “For women especially, it is an opportunity for there to be a woman represented in executive management, and I wear that banner proudly. I hope to forge the way for others.”

Avgiris has been with Comcast for 21 years. In her former role as executive vice president and general manager for communication and data services, she oversaw the XFINITY Internet, XFINITY Voice and consumer wireless business. Under her leadership, Comcast became one the largest phone providers in the U.S. with 19 million Internet users and 10 million voice users.

“Launching the company’s phone service is the thing I am most proud of,” she said. “I didn’t have a lot of experience in the phone industry in my background, but the company gave me the opportunity to launch a new product line, and it was the first time I was there from the ground up.”

Avgiris attributed much of her success to her drive, curiosity and zeal for problem solving. She said she was always a confident woman and was never afraid to ask for new responsibilities in the workplace. But most importantly, she was never afraid to ask the “dumb questions” so she could understand the root of how things functioned within the company.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to really understand things,” she said. “Women especially feel they sometimes shouldn’t ask questions because they don’t want to feel as if they don’t know the answer. When you’re in a company like Comcast, you really need to understand the technology. I am not afraid to say to the engineer: ‘Run that buy me again — I didn’t get it.’ Usually, people are really happy to explain their work because they take pride in what they do.”

Although the 53-year-old has reached an apex in her career, the road upward was not easy. As a wife and mother of two, Avgiris had to make difficult decisions as she progressed professionally — always taking into account how different promotions and opportunities would affect her family.

“As a mother you end up having to make sacrifices,” she said. “There were opportunities along the way to advance within the company, but that meant relocating my family to other parts of the country and that was hard to do. Not only was I taking care of my [sons], but also taking care of my parents. [Plus], my husband had his own career.

“At different points in your life you have to stare at yourself and say, ‘OK, what’s the most important thing right now?
Though Avgiris passed up opportunities, she didn’t see that as “holding back” at work, but as making tough choices, which is part of life. She said she doesn’t regret passing up earlier promotions because if she hadn’t, she would not have had the opportunity to launch the company’s phone line.

“Everything happens for a reason,” she said.

Avgiris said juggling work and life involved sacrifices from the entire family, including her children.

“A tradition in my family — though my kids were not always crazy about it — was we always ate dinner together,” she said. “Sometimes that meant we ate dinner at 7 p.m. and sometimes that meant we ate dinner at 8:30 p.m. That was a sacrifice for everyone because that meant we never had a consistent dinner time, but we always ate dinner as a family.”

Avgiris resides in Ambler but has deep ties to Cheltenham Township. She is a member of the Annunciation/Evangelismos Greek Orthodox Church in Elkins Park, one of the oldest Greek Orthodox churches in the country. Her sons were baptized there, and she and her husband have been active members for many years. The things she learned as a church volunteer helped her cultivate some of her leadership skills, she said.

“The volunteer work I have done in the church has been important and helped me put a lot of things in perspective,” she said. “It has helped me figure out how to build a team with people of various levels of education, skills and motivations and how [to] try to bring the best out of everyone.”

As someone who has been navigating the corporate world for more than two decades, Avgiris knows the value of being a well-rounded professional. She encourages aspiring leaders to become well rounded in their respective fields.

“Companies today… look for utility players [that] have skills that can apply to a variety of different job responsibilities,” she said. “All of this contributes to making you a well-rounded business person, which then makes you a better leader.”

09/09/2013



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