Diversity Advocate "Planned for My Retirement Since . . . 21"

Paula Madison, executive vice president and chief diversity officer for NBCUniversal, is retiring on May 20 after more than 35 years in the news media, NBCUniversal intends to announce on Monday.

Madison, 58, a board member of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education and longtime diversity champion, is one of few African Americans in the upper reaches of  media corporations.

Having steered NBCUniversal through diversity initiatives that helped to secure its purchase by Comcast, Madison told Journal-isms, she can now devote her time to the businesses and investments she has seeded over the years.

"I've planned for my retirement since I was 21 years old," she said.

An announcement about Madison's successor will be made "probably in a few weeks," Nate Kirtman, senior vice president for publicity at NBCUniversal, told Journal-isms.


Madison and her family are majority owners of the Los Angeles Sparks, the Women's National Basketball Association team, and of the Africa Channel. She is an investor in Broadway Federal Bank, the largest African American bank west of the Mississippi, and has created the Madison Media Fund, a division of Williams Group Holdings that will invest and advise multicultural media, she said.

Throughout her career, Madison said she looked for jobs offering deferred income and deferred bonuses, as well as perks and benefits that would be useful in retirement.

According to her NBCUniversal bio, that career began shortly after graduating from Vassar College in 1974.


"She worked as a newspaper reporter in New York and Dallas/Fort Worth," it reads. "After a few years at television stations in Texas and Oklahoma, Paula returned to her native New York City by joining NBC's owned and operated station WNBC in 1989 as Assistant News Director. Paula rose to  the station's Vice President and News Director in March 1996.

"Four years later, Paula was appointed President and General Manager of KNBC, NBC's owned and operated station in Los Angeles. She was the first African American woman to become general manager at a network-owned station in a top five market. In April 2002, when NBC purchased the Telemundo network, Paula was additionally named Regional General Manager of the Spanish language network's stations, KVEA and KWHY.

"In July 2006, she added another duty to her existing responsibilities - Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, NBC Universal. She was not a complete stranger to this role, however. While leading KNBC, Paula held the position of Vice President, Diversity, and then Senior Vice President, Diversity, for the NBC network from February 2000 to May 2002."


It was Madison's charge to help win over groups representing people of color who objected to the Comcast takeover of NBCU.

To do so, NBCU made a number of promises.

Among them:

  • Comcast Corp. will add four cable networks owned, or partly owned, by African Americans over the next eight years, as well as a new English-language channel aimed at Asian Americans.
  • An NBCU commitment to increase news and information choices for Hispanic viewers, including a plan to work with an independent producer on a weekly business news program.
  • Comcast will add a Hispanic to its corporate board within two years.
  • Comcast promised to add at least three independent cable networks with "substantial [minority] ownership interest" over the next three years; to establish four external advisory councils, one each for representatives of the African American, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander communities, and another for "other diverse communities," and to spend at least $7 million more on advertising in minority-owned media in 2011.
  • NBC promised that " 'Meet the Press' is committed to having a more diverse group of voices on the show whose opinions and expertise reflect, not just the news of the day, but the cultural, economical and political landscape of our country."  NBC has by and large kept this promise, made last year. Helene Cooper of the New York Times was on Sunday's show.


Madison timed her retirement date for May 20, the second day of two-day meeting in Philadelphia of the Comcast Advisory Council, which is to include representatives of African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Pacific Islanders, women, gays and lesbians, American Indians and people with disabilities. Memoranda of understanding signed with African Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Pacifics will result in "some really positive outcomes that are going to be seen very shortly," Madison said.

"It's a new company," she said she told Stephen B. Burke, CEO of NBCUniversal and executive vice president of Comcast Corp. "It's a really good time for you to bring in a new chief diversity officer."

Madison said her message to those starting out in the news business would be directed "to people who have an interest in or a passion for running things, for being in charge.


 "The first time I was told I should be a manager, I was 25 years old." Looking at the managers she worked for, she said "not only should I be doing that, but I'm going to [take] the best of what I'm seeing and internalize that and reject the worst."

Regardless of the economy, "there are always going to be executive positions. I would encourage as many of them as possible who are interested in being managers and executives that you line up your career to achieve that goal. They you decide who has a job and who doesn't, and what is a story and what is not a story."

Madison attributes much of her drive to her Jamaican immigrant parents, who set high standards for their children and taught them to pool their money. "We Jamaicans always have a lot of irons in the fire," she said. She said they knew of only the U.S. top universities growing up. Her eldest brother, Elrick Williams, went to Williams College and Harvard Business School. He was a commodities trader on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange,  is retired CEO of the algorhythmic trading company he founded, and is CEO of the Africa Channel.


Asked two years ago by EURWeb.com what was the best thing about being Paula Madison, she said, "That's easy. The absolute best thing about being me is that I am a grandmother. . . . My husband and I are unbelievably happy."

As for what she'll be remembered for, Madison recalled a moment at New York's Madison Square Garden in February: Before thousands of fans, she got to do the bump with Prince.