62°F
weather icon Cloudy

‘Road to the top’: Janet Uthman at Cox Communications reflects on career

Longtime telecommunications and cable executive Janet Uthman has risen through the ranks to reach top echelons during her career that has spanned more than two decades.

One of the lessons Uthman learned along the way: “The road to the top is never a straight line.”

Over the years, she has garnered many accolades, including as one of Cablefax’s “Most Influential Minorities in Media and Broadband” and by EBONY Magazine as a “Power 100 Executive.”

Uthman, who is market leader and vice president for Cox Communications in Las Vegas, said she’d encourage others to not be afraid to try something new or move laterally in their career to expand their experience.

“Keep learning,” she said.

As she walked through the Cox Communications call center on a recent weekday, Uthman stopped frequently to greet employees.

Engaging with employees and maintaining a family-like feel is important to Uthman.

“I work for them,” she said during a Feb. 14 interview at the company’s Las Vegas headquarters in the Historic Westside.

Uthman has held her current position since February 2022. The company, one of the state’s largest private, nongaming employers, has more than 1,500 employees.

Uthman said her goal at Cox is to help eliminate the digital divide and improve lives in underserved communities.

She points to progress made through Cox’s low-cost Internet programs for those in need, such as ConnectAssist and Connect2Compete, designed for families with students in kindergarten through 12th grades.

Twenty Cox labs are located across the Las Vegas Valley, including at a number of Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada locations, Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada, Heinrich YMCA, Strong Future Technology Training Center on the Historic Westside School campus and Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth.

Uthman said her vision is also to do everything in her power to help renew funding for the federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program. Current funds are slated to run out in April without congressional action.

No stranger to Las Vegas

Uthman said she has lived across the country, but no community has been more welcoming and giving than Las Vegas.

She’s no stranger to Las Vegas, though. Her parents moved to the valley in 1999.

Uthman said she was interviewing in California, but Cox Communications did everything it could to get her to Las Vegas to fill a position vacated because of a retirement.

That’s when Uthman said she saw firsthand how Cox treats employees like family.

Her father died about six months after she moved to Las Vegas. She said she’s eternally grateful for the opportunity to have been with him during his final days.

Now, Uthman balances her job with both community service and being a caregiver for her mother.

She said she’s grateful for the “kind, generous nature” of Cox’s team members, who spend thousands of hours volunteering each year and raising money for nonprofit organizations.

‘Positive force’

Uthman also has a larger role in the community. She is chair-elect of the Vegas Chamber. She will take the reins in 2025, coinciding with the state’s next legislative session.

Mary Beth Sewald, president and CEO of the Vegas Chamber, called Uthman a “powerful and thoughtful business person in our community.”

“Janet is somewhat newer as a Las Vegas resident, but has quickly become (ingrained) in our community and has made it her hometown,” Sewald continued in an email to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “She is an avid fan of our sports teams and can often be found at a local game.”

Uthman is a “vocal champion for diversity and inclusion” and is a “positive force” on the chamber’s board, Sewald wrote.

Uthman also serves as board secretary for Opportunity Village. She said that when she first toured the local nonprofit that helps people with disabilities, “I was just blown away by the work they’re doing.”

Cox Communications has a contract with the nonprofit to provide jobs for workers who refurbish remote controls.

“Janet is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet,” said Opportunity Village President and CEO Bob Brown said. After Uthman first toured the nonprofit, “her heart was just wide open to it and we love that about her.”

She has assisted the organization in many ways, he said, including helping secure $200,000 in funding from the James M. Cox Foundation for a new housing project.

Uthman also played an instrumental role in creating the Donna Street Community Center, which opened this month at Centennial Park Apartments in North Las Vegas.

Early days

Uthman was born in Rochester, New York. Her father was one of the first Black engineers for Xerox, and her mother also worked for the company and then at National Semiconductor in Silicon Valley.

The family moved to California, and Uthman attended high school in San Jose.

While in college at the University of California, Berkeley, Uthman worked two jobs — one related to accounting for the experience and one in retail at a San Francisco Macy’s department store for the money.

“My Dad said, ‘You are going to college, but I am not paying for it,’” Uthman said.

While at UC Berkeley, she said, “I saw the diversity at the school.”

Students wore attire in protest of the apartheid system of racial segregation in South Africa, Uthman recalled.

She said that her beliefs of fighting for equality and that “love is love” were formed while in college.

A pivot from accounting to entertainment

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance, Uthman worked for one of the “Big Eight” accounting firms for three years in the San Francisco Bay area.

But once she got into the career, she didn’t like it. She wanted to pursue her longtime goal of working in the entertainment industry and returned to school to earned a master’s degree in business administration in marketing from UCLA.

She said her ultimate dream was to become an executive producer. But Uthman cited diversity representation issues, noting that during the time she was at UCLA, “there were not a lot of us.”

Uthman worked for the Disney Channel in the 1990s, including as regional director of affiliate sales and marketing.

That’s where she met Rich Ross — who later became chairman of Walt Disney Studios — and he sought her honest feedback on the programming.

“At the time, there wasn’t a lot of diversity at the Disney Channel,” Uthman said, noting she did provide feedback to Ross.

Years later, she said, Ross told her that he always remembered that insight.

The lesson Uthman took away from the experience: “Use your voice.”

She then worked as corporate marketing director for Black Entertainment Television, where she served on a team that created the BET Awards in the early 2000s.

Uthman continued on to Comcast NBCUniversal, where she filled a number of roles.

Before becoming a regional vice president, she wanted to rise through the ranks, but people in those positions didn’t look like her, Uthman said.

She left to become co-founder and president of a technical operations and marketing consulting company.

After a few years, she went back to Comcast.

“I thought if you kept your head down and worked really hard, of course they’d notice you and of course they’d promote you,” she said.

Uthman said she discovered the power of networking and that it’s an “absolute must.”

She was promoted to a position as a regional vice president of sales and marketing.

Uthman said she was the only Black female in her role out of Comcast’s 16 regions. She said she felt the weight of knowing that if she wasn’t successful, that opportunity might not be there for others in the future.

At Comcast, she worked on a Time Warner Cable merger with Comcast that didn’t come to fruition.

When considering her next step, Uthman said she knew she wanted to work in diversity and inclusion. And before she joined Cox, Uthman did just that, serving as vice president of multicultural marketing and inclusion for Comcast’s northeast division.

“Everyone should have the chance to be successful,” Uthman said.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com. Follow @julieswootton on X.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST