From the Projects to President with Steve White

Reading Time: 16 Minutes

In this interview with Steve White, learn about the seven pathways to identify and live your why, leading to an impactful life and a lasting legacy.

About Steve White

As president of Comcast’s West Division for eleven years, Steve created a culture defined by the catchphrase “Working Together to Win Together.” Driven by continuous learning, radical responsibility, and an unwavering commitment to excellence, the West Division became a pacesetter by delivering industry-leading results. Steve was responsible for all Comcast Cable operations in the Western U.S., leading nearly 30,000 employees, serving over 11 million customers, and driving annual revenue of nearly $18 billion. Today, Steve applies the same winning philosophy to his new post as president and special counsel to the CEO of Comcast Cable.

Read the Transcript

Allison: Welcome back to the Deliberate Leaders podcast. I am Allison Dunn, your host and executive coach. Welcome. I am very excited for our interview today. We have with us Steve White. As president of Comcast West for 11 years, Steve created a culture defined by the catchphrase work together to win together. Driven by continuous learning and radical responsibility and unwavering commitment to excellence, the West Division became the pace setter for delivering industry leading results.

I don’t often get to say these stats from an interview guest, but I think it’s important to also highlight, Steve led, under the Western US operations, nearly 30,000 employees, serving over 11 million customers and drove an annual revenue of nearly $18 billion. So today Steve applies these same winning philosophies to his new role as President and Special Counsel to the CEO of Comcast Cable.

Steve’s book, he is the author of Uncompromising: How an Unwavering Commitment to Your Why Leads to an Impactful Life and a Lasting Legacy.

Steve, thanks so much for joining us here today.

Steve: Great, Alli. I’m so glad to be with you today.

Allison: Awesome. I love to kick these off with a deliberate conversation. What would be your number one leadership tip for our listeners?

Steve: Well, there’s so many, but I’ll try to pick one. I like to surround myself with a handful of people that are not afraid to tell me the truth because no leader’s perfect. We’re all going to make mistakes. The key is to identify them early and often, so they don’t continue to impact the organization. And when you have men and women that are around you that feel comfortable because you’ve created a safe environment for them to tell you like it is, that is a gift that every leader should want.

Allison: Yeah. I love that tip and as a coach to leaders, how can we do a better job at surrounding ourselves around people who aren’t just going to say that’s a great idea?

Steve: Well, first of all, you give them the permission – and I know that sounds elementary – but I think going to people and say, look, I am on a continuous journey to be better. That’s number one. Then number two: be vulnerable to say, hey, here are the two or three things I’m really struggling with, and I would love for you to observe and if you see something where I can be better, then tell me. And then, number three, the first time they come to you with feedback, don’t kill the messenger. Encourage that. Maybe you don’t even say anything. Just say, look, can I think about what you just said and come back. That allows you to compose yourself, particularly if they say something you don’t like. Those are three things, Allie that have worked for me in creating an environment where people feel safe to come tell me like it is.

Allison: Right. I like the fact that you highlight sometimes we ask for honesty and then someone gives you honesty and you’re like, wait a minute.

Steve: I’m not that bad, right?

Allison: Right. So, the pause and the opportunity to reflect, so super good tips. Thank you for those.

Steve: No problem.

Allison: The title of today’s episode is going to be from the projects to President – realizing the American dream, despite the obstacles. Can you just tell me a little bit about your path to how you got to where you are today?

Steve: Alli, I was set up to be the perfect victim. Single mother. She raised four boys by herself. Eighth grade education. When she left my father, she didn’t even have a driver’s license nor had she ever held a full-time job. So, I was the perfect victim. Her first job was cleaning motel rooms and we would often go with her to clean those rooms. But what I learned cleaning motel rooms with my mom, Alli, is the value of hard work, great attitude, teamwork, and really having a purpose for your life.

 Now I didn’t realize it at the time, but my mother’s purpose was how can I create a better future for my four little boys? I didn’t understand it at the time, but she was making some significant sacrifices for her four little boys to be contributing members of society. And so that’s how the journey began. And through this process, there are a number of people, Allie, who gave me a hand up. That’s different than a handout. A hand up is someone giving you an opportunity to put your talents and skills to the test, and I had a number of men and women that gave me that opportunity because I focused on the two things I could control – attitude and effort. If you have a great attitude with an incredible work ethic, that attracts people to you, and the more people are attracted to me, the more opportunities I got and that’s how I was able to reach the point of President of Comcast West.

Allison: That’s fantastic. Kudos to your mom for such a great example. Not often people really talk about the fact that I totally could have been the victim, and knowing that you have a choice on whether to be or not. At what age do you think that you recognized it was a choice?

Steve: I believe probably during high school, because the more and more I got exposed to people, the people that were making it happen, they were successful. Nothing got in their way. Even when they were punched in the stomach, they found a way to dust themselves off and move forward. And that inspired me and it gave me a parallel to my life because we had been punched in the stomach. We had been pushed down and given up as maybe not being able to make things happen.

So that inspired me because Alli, one of the things I tell people, I have more mentors than most people know. But most of those mentors, they don’t even know they’re mentoring me, but I watch and I observe and I see what people do that’s right. I also watch the people who do it wrong as well, because there are lessons there as well. So, if you live your life as a constant journey of learning and growing, that’s how I believe you move forward.

Allison: One of the other things that you brought up, which I think is really important and important especially on the Deliberate Leaders podcast to not overlook, is that you said you had a lot of hands up. I just want to emphasize from wherever we are, we can always give someone a hand up, and I just want to just drive home with all of our listeners that it’s our responsibility to do that.

Steve: That’s right. A lot of times, Alli, those opportunities are presented to us. Maybe we don’t recognize it as an opportunity, so it’s very important. I love to start each day through reflection. I reflect on the previous day. I reflect on the day that I’m about ready to start. And I think about what am I trying to accomplish today. You always have to stay in the moment cause all of us have people reaching out in a way to help us. We just have to be aware of it.

Allison: Yeah. Very true. Thank you. That’s a good reminder for all of us. In the introduction, I highlighted what you call your catchphrase, and so I am very interested. I love it. So, working together to win together. What does that mean, and what did that do for your culture at Comcast?

Steve: It was huge, because remember my organization was 30,000 men and women, and people say, Steve, how do you lead 30,000 men and women? You don’t. You try to find your circle of influence, and you try to ensure that those values that are important are within them and they help take the road out. Lemme give you a good example. As a leader, I can’t delegate every responsibility. Strategically, I get to say, as an example, we’re going to Miami. That’s the direction. As the CEO, as the president, that is my responsibility with input of course, is to decide our future. However, I didn’t say how we were going to get to Miami. We could take a truck. We could drive, we could walk, we could hitch hike. We could take an airplane, but this is where the working together to win together really takes place, Alli.

 When you can now create an environment where everyone gets to participate in how we get there, now there’s this shared ownership in the journey and it’s less about going to Miami. Everybody’s focused on how we get there. And so when you can create an organization and a number of systems in place that allow you to do that, that’s when the magic happens.

 Let me give you a very practical example. I dedicated myself to doing a hundred focus groups a year throughout the organization, and that was my way. One, to make sure that our message was getting down to all levels of the organization, but it also gave me an opportunity to see feedback and insight on how we get to Miami. And so, once people start to realize you’re really listening, that they’re being heard, now they feel they’re part of the journey. And that’s the portion of working together to win together because none of us do this alone. And when you can inspire men and women to feel comfortable sharing their real opinions, boy, you’re on to something. And that’s what we were able to create here in the west, which led us to some incredible results.

 The final point Allie I’ll make to this people say, Steve, how did you go from the housing projects to the President of Comcast? Because I invested in people, they promoted me. They pushed me up so I would be recognized. I couldn’t talk about myself enough, but they pushed me up, which allowed me to be recognized. And the more I invested in people, the more my career took off.

Allison: I love that, and I just want to make sure. Could you say that one more time for us? What did you do?

Steve: Well, working together to win together is all about promoting and investing in your men and women, and then they start to promote you. They start to talk about you to other leaders, about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and why they’re inspired. That catches attention of the bosses and that’s how you get promoted because your team, they’re pushing you forward. You’re not pulling them; they’re pushing you. And that’s how you get recognized for unique contributions.

Allison: Thank you. Your book, Uncompromising. Tell me about it and who did you write it for?

Steve: I wrote it for all the men and women who had made a difference in my life. What better way to write a love letter to all the folks that came before me to help me make a difference? But the book Uncompromising is built around the Mark Twain quote – the two most important days, Allie in your life is the day you’re born. The second is when you know why. And once you identify why you’ve been placed on this earth, because I truly believe we all have a unique set of talents, once you know why you’re on this earth, that is what you’re ruthless. That is what you’re uncompromising in your pursuit of living your best life. And the only way you do that is you live your purpose and your why. And so I talk about these pathways in the book that have worked for me in helping me identify my why, but more importantly, how I stay focused on my why and purpose to lead to a life of success, impact and legacy.

Allison: So many questions. I want to ask your pathways, but I first want for you, if you would, for our listeners to articulate what’s your why?

Steve: My why really got birthed when I got fired. I had early success in my career. I was leading my first team and I got fired within a year because I was so focused on what I was doing, I paid very little attention to what they needed and how they could develop and how I could help them be the best they could be. And so therefore they weren’t working hard for me and we were not getting the results, and justifiably I was fired. Now that was always there inside of me, but I had lost track of it. And so what happened, when I got fired a gentleman by the name of Darnell Martin, who’s no longer with us called me the day I was fired. He worked in another part of the company. He said, Steve, I see more in you than you see in yourself. However, if you continue to lead that way, you are not going to enjoy success.

 So he grabbed me, Alli. Moved me to Chicago for seven months. I worked under him. I didn’t have a specific job, but I learned and he poured into me and I saw how he motivated and inspired men and women, and how excited they were to be around him and the results they put on the table. It helped me refine my purpose. And from that day on, my career took off because I dedicated myself to creating a table of prosperity for others. That is my why. How do I create a table of prosperity for as many people as possible so they can live their best life?

Allison: Nice. That’s powerful.

Steve: Thank you. But it’s real. And what’s happened, Alli, I cannot out give. The more I give, the more I get in return. I’ll share a quick story with you and I’ll be brief. In the cable industry I was working for AT&T Broadband. We got bought by Comcast. Comcast has been my employer the last 20 plus years. They fired 48 out of the top 50 executives when they purchased AT&T Broadband’s cable company. I was one of those top 50. And about a month later, I asked them. I said, why didn’t I get fired as well? They said, Steve, here’s what happened. As we were doing our due diligence, every time we would meet with employees within your area, they would talk about all the things that were wrong. They were very honest, but they kept saying, but can I tell you about Steve White? And that happened 3, 4, 5, or 6 times in their focus groups in their due diligence. And they said, there’s something here and therefore they gave me an opportunity. Going back to your people, if you do the right thing, they will promote you and that’s how you’ll get noticed.

Allison: That’s a cool story. I think I like that a lot, because you can be doing a lot of things wrong, but if people think that you’re doing the right things for them, it’s all that matters.

Steve: You cannot hide from people. They will always see the true you and you can’t fool them. So just be you.

Allison: Would you be willing to dive in – you’ve identified them as seven possible pathways. Can you give us kind of a high level what’s this all about?

Steve: Yeah. I’ll be quick. We talk about success and having impact. And remember I talk about success as creating prosperity for others. The first thing you have to do is you have to find your fight and people say, well, Steve, how do I find my fight and purpose? I always start with three questions. What are you good at? Now get other opinions. I think I’m a good singer and I’m not, but what are you good at? What are you passionate about, and what would you do for free? If you could answer those three questions, that will start to give you a perspective of where your purpose is, because you have the talent, you have the passion and if you’re good at it, that begins your fight.

 So once you identify your fight, the second thing is, how do you stay focused on the real prize? Don’t get distracted by the sideshow. Stay focused on your purpose, and that’s where the title Uncompromising comes. Number three: live life as a learning lab. Life is a journey. I write in the book. My stepdad was 75 years old. Alli, he was taking Spanish lessons. And so when you have that thirst for knowledge, that’s how you continue to grow.

 Number four – and this might sound different for everyone – think and act like a business. I tell people all the time, Alli, I am chairman and CEO of Steve White, Incorporated. Comcast purchases my services and I’m thankful for that. But if I were not investing in my company, Comcast would not want or desire or need my services. So change your mindset so as you navigate your career, sometimes a lateral move is a good move for you because it helps you build out your skill set and makes your company more attractive.

 Number five: own your attitude and effort. Those are truly the only two things that you can control and Alli, I’m sure you would agree. People that you meet with a great attitude and a terrific work ethic, you’re attracted to that and you want to attract people to your company. Number six is life and success is not a straight line. It is a very crooked road. Your ability to navigate uncertainty is critical. And then finally, probably my biggest struggle is how do you develop and commit to road dog relationships? Where I grew up, road dog is a sign of affection. That is somebody who has your back. They give it to you straight. They are truth tellers. Having men and women around you that are road dogs are critical to your success. I truly believe if you follow these seven pathways, you too can lead a life of success, impact, and legacy.

Allison: You did. You covered those super-fast and I really resonate with several of them. I think the one that I often utilize so we’re on similar ground is thinking I’m the CEO of me.

Steve: Yes.

Allison: You employ my services to the company back, and I think that’s something I remind our emerging leaders and our current leaders a lot about.

Steve: That’s right, because sometimes Alli, particularly early in your career, you are expecting the company to develop a career path for you. Nobody’s trying to be mean here, but that does not happen. You have to own you and your company, and constantly thinking about what else can I do to invest in my company. So don’t wait for your boss to bring the learning and development calendar to you. You go seek it out and you proactively identify your areas of opportunity. And I love that cause it’s a new way of thinking as you move forward. I’m going to invest in me, in my company, and that’s how I am going to grow.

Allison: Love that. We’re in an era where there’s a lot of talk about the great resignation, and I’m curious. What insights would you have for leaders that are listening today and also the owners that may be experiencing that and benefiting from it? I just want to make sure I understand there’s both.

Steve: Well, first of all, don’t fall into the trap of the great resignation. I call it the great reset, because the reason people are resigning is COVID has all paused us. It has allowed us to take stock. We’re probably at our most vulnerable position ever, because we realize we’re not in control and we start to think about how am I spending my time? How am I leading my life? Am I doing something that is aligned with my purpose and my passion? And the answer is coming back no. And it’s not just young people. It is all levels of age groups. And so companies are reacting by saying, let me give you more money. Let me do this.

 I believe you have to step back and ensure that your company has a real purpose for why it exists. So I go back to that quote, the two most important days in your life as an individual, also as a company, why are you here? What is your purpose? And when you can take your purpose and connect it to your teammates that are on your team and connect to their purpose, that’s how you create an aligned organization. There might be some employees that don’t align, and that’s fine too. But the key is the ones that are there, you guys have a shared alignment on going forward. And so that’s why I call it the great reset. People are stepping back, re-looking at their life and saying, how do I want to live my life?

 And this idea about work-life balance, I call it work-life integration. Because if I’m living my purpose, why would I want to separate that from my family? I want them to participate in this journey with me. So therefore, this desire to be connected to your purpose becomes even more critical. And I think the companies that recognize that early, often, and then partner with their employees in talking about that, those are the ones that are going to ultimately be relevant and going to win long term.

Allison: That’s fantastic. I appreciate the reset. I feel that more so than ever than I maybe did six months ago as this was all starting to transform. Connecting to your why, identifying your mission, why are you here, hiring for people who resonate with that, I think is also a huge, critical success factor. I’m super curious. What are the qualities you look for in everyone you hire?

Steve: Well, I start with self-awareness. Tell me about your mistakes. Tell me about where you’re struggling. Tell me where you believe you need to get better. If you meet someone that can’t answer that in an intelligent way, run Allie, because trust me, that’s a problem. So I always start there. Tell me a little bit about that. Then tell me about your accomplishments. What are you most proud of? And what I always hear, I hear about I was the oldest in my family and my mom and dad counted on me to help raise my younger brothers and sisters. I love hearing answers like that, but I want to be around people that have experienced success. They know what it’s like. They know what it feels like to accomplish something.

 Certainly, number three, team oriented. Somebody that’s very focused on the team, not just their own individual deals. Obviously, I’m looking for functional competency and that’s why it’s very important our listeners really develop their craft and they get experience so they can really be a functional expert in a particular area and really bring that competence to the table.

 Obviously looking for someone smart and then finally, Alli, I’m looking for somebody with a chip on their shoulder. Not a bad chip, but what I call a good chip because when I grew up in the housing projects of Indianapolis, I don’t need to tell you Alli, how many people said, he’ll never make it. They’re not going to be successful, so I decided to make that a good chip. And early on, I said, I’m going to show you, but it quickly turned to I’m competing against myself.

So, when I look in the mirror every morning and I know if I gave it my best and if I didn’t, I commit myself today to be better. Those are the men and women you want on your team. They’ve got something to prove. They got a little chip on their shoulder and they’re competing against themselves. Man, that is magic when you meet leaders like that.

Allison: Yeah, I do. I will often say that complacency is a killer. So yes, having a reason, having a drive is an attractive quality for sure.

Steve: That’s correct, cause when you’re completing against yourself, you never get there. It’s always a journey, but boy, it’s a fun journey.

Allison: Yeah, for sure. Steve, I so appreciate this conversation and I just want to make sure that our listeners have an opportunity if they wanted to connect with you or learn more about where to buy your book, where would you point to them to?

Steve: Thank you Allie, for that. Go to my website, Stevewhitespeaks.com. You can learn more about the book. You can find out how you can follow me on social media, but I’ve also tried to create the website as a learning lab where you can go in and listen to different podcasts as you think about making your company the best it can be.

Allison: Fantastic. It has been a true pleasure to have you here with us today.

Steve: Great. Thank you, Allie. I so enjoyed myself today.

Allison: Thank you.

 

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