An award-winning Fond du Lac business leader said she owes her success to mentors and driven employees.
Lisa Washa, vice president and general manager of Charter Communications' Wisconsin operations, has worked for 23 years in cable, and she shows no sign of slowing down — a feat she attributes to the people she works with.
CableFax Magazine recently named her one of the nation's top 100 women in the industry. Washa said cable executives choose nominees, but the magazine editors make the final decision. She has never been nominated or listed in the top 100 before, she said.
Communications Director John Miller said he worked with Washa during his first six years with Charter, and he's pleased to see her receive the honor.
"She is a shining example of what you want to become in this business," he said.
The new year is already off to a busy start for Washa. Besides managing Charter in a time of intense technological change, she is beginning her first year as the Fond du Lac Area Association of Commerce board chair. Washa said she has been active in the association, the Fond du Lac County Economic Development Corporation and Leadership Fond du Lac. She is past president of the Wisconsin Cable Communications Association.
Washa said her family motivates her to stay active on the job and in the community. She wants to see her stepchildren and future generations thrive in a prosperous city.
"People are very vested in making sure Fond du Lac is strong and safe," she said.
Had a friend not encouraged her to take a job in cable, Washa might be working at a motel right now. She said she was studying hotel management in the mid-1980s when an acquaintance alerted her to a position with Star Cablevision in Menominee, Wis.
"I really didn't want to work," she recalled. "I just wanted to go to school and get my degree. I certainly didn't think I would pursue it as a career."
After months of pressure, she joined the company as a customer service representative. Washa said the fast-paced, ever-changing environment grew on her, and she changed her major to business with an emphasis on marketing and advertising.
"One thing led to another, and I was really enjoying the industry," she said. "I don't like routine. I love to further my knowledge. I like the challenge, and I'm very competitive."
While on the job, Washa said her supervisors gave her the chance to attend a leadership training program. She traveled through several states, meeting company presidents and chief executive officers and learning the keys to running a successful business.
"I saw it as an incredible opportunity, so I decided to jump in with both feet," she said.
In 1989, Washa packed her bags and moved to Illinois to assume her first leadership role.
She knew the industry was changing, but she couldn't have guessed how much it would evolve in a decade. In the early '90s, Marcus Cable purchased Star Cablevision. A few years later, Paul Allen purchased Marcus Cable. He then acquired Charter Communications and consolidated the two.
Washa said she naturally feared for her job, but Charter decided to keep company officials and talented employees.
"You always go in with some apprehension," she said. "There's always the risk (of losing your job)."
Washa said she moved to Fond du Lac 12 years ago. She occasionally commutes to Madison, but most of her work is local. She said she now oversees services in more than 500 communities throughout Wisconsin, and in parts of Illinois and Minnesota.
She leads more than 1,000 employees, according to a company press release.
Washa said those workers have helped her achieve her goals. She said employees and executives are driven to keep Charter competitive in an industry influenced by the latest technology, such as digital TV.
Miller said Washa's leadership style, an emphasis on teamwork, has strengthened Charter. He said she has built a cohesive work force without micromanaging.
"She doesn't let her team run helter skelter," he said. "She gives them a roadmap."
Cooperation is crucial in today's world, where workers are more likely to frequently change jobs. He said businesses need leaders who can replace lost employees and integrate them into the team.
But Washa said she still has plenty to do, and customer service is an ongoing project. Her goal is to ensure subscribers receive top-notch products, and that employees have the necessary training.
Due to the current economy, businesses need to focus on excellent service and value, she said. For instance, Charter is focused on meeting customer demand for more high-definition channels. It also emphasizes the value of bundling products, rather than receiving phone, TV and Internet from different providers, she said.
Washa noted that she is not concerned about a recent Moody's report that downgraded Charter's credit rating. She said the company has funds available, and it is managing expenses.
"We adjust, we pivot, we continue to change," she said. "Our operations are very solid."
She added she is confident that co-workers and skilled employees will help the company thrive.
"You can't be successful without a great team, and I've been fortunate to have that," she said.