Jill Campbell is the former President and Chief People & Operations Officer of Cox Enterprises, a private, family-owned company leading in the communications and automotive industries. She was one of the first female trailblazers on the operations side of the cable industry and is passionate about women’s rights both in and out of the workplace. Now retired, she sits on the board of the Art Farm of Serenbe, bringing the arts to the Serenbe community, and plans to do a lot of travelling into next year. She has been a member of C200 since March 2023.

EG: Could you please introduce yourself and describe what you do?

JC: I’m recently retired from a 40-year career at Cox Enterprises, which owns TelComm companies across the United States from California all the way to New England. We also owned the largest auto-auction company in the world called Manheim, as well as Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, and Clean Tech—think leafy vegetables and solar panels—companies that will change the world and make our environment better.

I worked in the same company my whole life. It was cool to promote up and do so many different things for one company. I moved six times in ten years managing cable systems throughout the country and had different jobs at corporate offices over the years. And then I ended up running HR, which isn’t something I had ever thought about doing. It felt like I was working for a lot of different companies.

EG: What was your day-to-day like before you retired?

JC: I was in the HR world during the height of COVID, and so our jobs changed dramatically. Everything we thought we knew didn’t exist anymore. The first order of business was keeping people safe; we still had technicians out in the fields helping our customers, so it wasn’t like we could simply shut things down and have people not working. We had to decide what our protocol would be for our techs: Do we let them go in a home? Do we let them go outside? It was just a complete overhaul of how we did business.

Those who could work remotely didn’t come back for two-and-a-half years! Imagine managing a remote workforce where your culture is all relationship-based; ours was very much family-oriented. Having to look at new ways to do business was very difficult. Nevertheless, it was exciting for me because it was very operational. We had to come up with lots of processes and plans to put in place.

Other day-to-day that isn’t specific to the pandemic: As President of Cox Enterprises, I met often with the SVPs and VPs on what they were producing every day. It’s a lot of strategy, thinking about what’s going to happen in the next five years and putting together plans for that including mergers and acquisitions. We were buying a lot of sustainability companies, which prompts the decision of whether to integrate them into the company and how. It was really a varied job, and when there was an emergency in the middle of your day, you’d have to pivot your plans and deal with that. That’s what I loved most about my career. I could come in and something could totally derail my plans for that day.

EG: What do you believe was the biggest factor in your success?

JC: I entered the cable industry when there were no women on the operations side. Zero. I started in public affairs where I had a boss who saw something in me, told me to get an MBA and that I should get into operations because that’s how I would be successful. At the time, I was thinking, “That sounds horrid!” He kept pushing, and it was a gamechanger when I finally did go into operations. I really like managing people, and I think I was a good leader because they knew I had their best interest at heart, was honest, and wanted them to do well. Operations is about managing a lot of people, so that skillset was super important.

Another thing beneficial to me was being able to stay in a company which was family-run and privately held, so there were more opportunities for me there than at a publicly held company. The people there raised me through the company, so they were willing to take risks on me that another company wouldn’t have. That, combined with good hard work, doing things other people didn’t want to do, and showing my commitment to the company—I think all those things led me continuing to be promoted.

EG: What’s it like now?

JC: I’m trying to do a lot more me time. I’ll go for a walk with a friend in the mornings, then I might workout, go to the pool, or read a book. I sit on a public board, Georgia Power, which keeps the business wheels turning. I’m also on a nonprofit board called The Art Farm at Serenbe, which is the little, funky wellness community I live in. We bring the arts into the community, everything from theater to dance to music. That’s been fun to be involved with and helps me get to know more of my neighbors.

I also love to travel! We’re going all over the place: Rwanda in September, a couple of wine countries in October and November—because you must throw those in—Egypt in December with the whole family, Finland in March, and Tahiti in June. I’m making up for some lost time! I have fewer years ahead of me than I do behind me, so I’m going to do what I want to do, make the most of them, and just enjoy myself.

EG: Who were your women mentors going up in your career? Who are the women who inspired you?

JC: In the business, all my mentors were men because when you looked up the corporate ladder, that’s all there was. I had a lot of great peer mentors who would tell me if they thought I was messing up, but again, when I looked up, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me. However, I was super lucky to have men who championed me, gave me really good feedback, and took chances on me.

Because of my experience going up the ranks, when I got into positions of power, I wanted to be a huge champion of women. I was very involved with Women in Cable, which is an organization that supports women and their advancement in the cable industry. I looked at equality in pay and positions, and I’m proud of the work that we did when I was on the board there. When I started to get up in my career, there were women that ran programming channels or at the EVP level who I could look up to.

I would get a lot of feedback on how to be a woman in the cable industry. Cable people cuss a lot, so I was doing a lot of that, but I was told that it was “not becoming of a young woman.” I was like, “Are you kidding me?” Men would say, “People are watching you,” and I would ask, “Well, aren’t they watching you?” Their answer was: “It’s just different.” I don’t disagree with that reality, but it’s how you handle those situations and how you give feedback that matters. It would have had a much different impact on me had it been approached differently; instead, I thought: “You’re just saying that to me because I’m a female.” I got a lot of those messages along the way, and now that I am mentoring and leading other women, I don’t treat them that way. The cable industry was a very interesting place to be at the time I started. It was rough.

EG: You’ve clearly been reflecting on your career journey and how you’ve risen in the ranks of your company. So, what does being a “woman in business” mean to you and how did you apply that thinking to your work as a corporate leader?

JC: They always say women work twice as hard to be where they are as men, and I think that’s true. In my experience, I was determined to show that I could do my job just like the guys. I didn’t want anyone to be able to say, “See, women can’t do it because they have kids” or something like that. When one of my kids had a baseball game or something like that, I was afraid to leave work for that. What was important to me as I got higher in the organization was that it’s okay to be a full person. You don’t have to hide the fact that you have a kid who has a baseball game. We trust you; we know you’re doing your job—go to the baseball game! I wanted to show that women are still women; they don’t have to act like men to be respected in the workplace. That took a long time for me to understand myself and emphasize to others.

A colleague once told me, “When I first met you, you were wearing such a cute dress and stilettos, and in the business meeting, you were so smart and dynamic.” I’m so happy that I was at a company like Cox because I could be me and still be respected and treated like an equal. I had never thought about people looking up and saying, “Look, she’s President now and she’s still herself, a woman, and representing femininity at the same time that she’s running this business.” That was the coolest thing that I’ve ever heard, and I’m proud that I could do that for myself and for others, because I wanted anyone—not just women—to come into the workplace, feel safe, and feel like they can be themselves. It’s the little things that you say and do that makes the difference down in the ranks. You must walk the talk, and if you don’t, people see through that. You must be strong in your convictions about creating and maintaining a culture where people feel like they can be themselves in the company.

EG: I think that is so important. For women, it’s more than just wanting to be a part of a space that men dominate. It’s about wanting to be respected in that space as who you are, because if you’re just assimilating to the status quo, what’s tolerable, what trails are you really blazing? What’s the point?

JC: It saddens me that there are still companies that discourage inclusivity. When I hear women talk about how they’re treated in their businesses, I think, “Why is this still happening?” A lot of women still say, “I really do feel like there’s a different standard for us.” Another thing women say to me is, “How did you balance it all? I’m not even sure I’m going to have kids because I don’t want that to hold me back.” Don’t make that decision! Find the right company, be an entrepreneur, or most importantly, find a supportive life partner who truly sees you as an equal. A partner that doesn’t want to be equal with you or for you to be more successful than them is another way that women’s careers are stifled.

EG: What’s your advice to aspiring female entrepreneurs and corporate leaders to advance their own careers?

JC: Don’t be afraid. Don’t fill your head with all the negatives; lots of people are doing that for you already. You’ve got to be super positive and surround yourself with good people who will also support your vision. I got great advice early on to get a “personal board of directors.” First, find people in your personal life—a friend, a mother—for moral support. Then, find some high-powered executives—it could be a friend of your parents—and an entrepreneur who’s made it and is willing to mentor you. Surrounding yourself with other like-minded women who you can learn from is important. Don’t be isolated. I believe feedback is a huge gift, so it’s good to hear it from a supportive place and not just when you’re messing up. Get all the feedback and information that you can from anyone who’s willing to talk to you. That’s really it; listening and being open is so important.

EG: What are you most excited about as a new C200 member?

JC: The thing that attracted me to C200 is all the amazing women. I get very energized being around powerful, successful, kind, and philanthropic women. When I went to the conference in Atlanta, I was starstruck being among all these women—presidents of corporations, senators, written 29 books—whereas I felt like, “Well, I’ve just been working at the same company for 40 years.” It was very humbling—and inspiring! All of them were so willing to help with anything that I was interested in, sharing their stories, wanting to connect. That’s what I’m excited about: all the different women in different industries. I spent a lot of time in the same industry, so meeting people who are entrepreneurs in different kinds of companies is really cool, and I look forward to doing much more connecting!