In 1980, as a public relations student at Mount Royal University, I met a nice Lebanese gal from Saskatchewan. In April this year, that gal negotiated a $750 million contract and expanded her cable company, of which she is CEO, to 800,000 subscribers.

Colleen Abdoulah graduated from MRU in 1979 with her public relations degree, and did a stint as an account executive at the then Calgary-based PR agency, Francis, Williams and Johnson Co. Ltd., (one of her accounts was working on the opening of Calaway Park) before she left Canada to seek her fame and fortune in the United States.

“I was lured away to Cincinnati to work at an agency there, where I got exposed to the telecom industry,” she explained.

Agency life was short-lived, however. She was recruited by executives in the telecom field. She worked for TCI/Taft Cable Partners in many positions, starting as a regional marketing representative, and then became director of marketing. At this point, she started her life as an executive in the industry and her posts read like an alphabet soup of management. She was a vice president for WestMarc Cable Group, Inc.; assistant to the chief operating officer and executive vice president of cable operations for TCI; executive vice president of Wireline Services at AT&T Broadband; and General Manager at Netlink, where she oversaw the planning, financial performance and business strategy.Colleen Abdoulah, MRU graduate, recieved a lifetime achievement award from her alma mater

Photo courtesy of Colleen Abdoulah

In 2002, she hit the top of her game when she became CEO and chairwoman of the board for WideOpenWest (WOW!) and then in 2003, chief executive officer of Sigecom, LLC. She is now a sought-after speaker and a leader in the telecom world in the United States, serving as chairwoman of the board of the American Cable Association, representing some 900 cable operators.

WOW! has been a place for Abdoulah to create, infuse, and nurture an organizational culture that she’s always dreamed of. Determined to make work a place people want to go, Abdoulah is big on all those textbook ideas of affirming employees, being accessible, flexible, and being responsive to employee and customer needs, having an extremely human-oriented approach to work and management, which she feels works.

This is proven by the fact WOW! has received 14 J.D. Power and Associates awards for customer service and satisfaction and was given accolades by Consumer Reports as the top television and internet Provider in its 2009 telecom survey. Even her employees and colleagues are happy to go on record.

“Colleen came to an organization that lacked leadership, was losing customers and was in a terrible financial position. By focusing on her core values of integrity, respect, accountability and servanthood … (she) began to turn it around. Colleen is unsurpassed as a leader,” said Stephen Cochran, president of WOW!

Debbie Ruhmann, director human resources at WOW! said Abdoulah created the concept of “WOW Moments” for the organization and then quickly contributed one of her own. “Colleen was visiting the Care Center, and heard that the child of a WOW! customer had been killed in a tornado disaster. Without hesitation, she asked our director of customer service to reach out to this family with the gift of a meal from WOW!.” (Yes – wow! Frankly, all I get from my cable company is elevator music).

Abdoulah credits her success to the values instilled in her by her immigrant parents.
“I learned how to work hard in my family’s restaurant in Saskatchewan …. I learned from my father how to treat people well and how to share the wealth.”

Abdoulah takes her thoughtful approach toward management from work into her personal life. She is especially passionate about causes related to women and children. She is a board member and past chairwoman of the board for the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center, a non-profit advocacy group for abused and neglected children. Shari Shink, founder and president of the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center, says in addition to Colleen’s genuine caring, her gift for fundraising is evident “both in strong economic times and lean times.“Colleen is unsurpassed as a leader,” said Stephen Cochran, president of WOW!”

– says Stephen Cochran, president of WOW!

“She brings passion, energy and dedication as a philanthropist and is a tireless advocate for children,” says Shink. It was through this relationship with the law center, that, as a single parent, Abdoulah was presented with a need in someone else’s life, and she came to adopt her daughter, Alexandra, now in her mid-twenties.

Causes for women are also close to Abdoulah’s heart, She actively supports the Women’s Global Empowerment Fund, a non-profit organization that reaches poor and underserved women in northern Uganda through microfinance loans and education programs. She also serves on the board for The Women’s College of the University of Denver (from where she received an MBA).

All this stuff about women and children, should not leave one thinking Abdoulah’s a softie. As chairwoman of the board of Board of American Cable Association, she testified before the US Senate of the dangers of the Comcast – NBC/Universal merger, representing some 900 cable operators in the US. She can swim with the sharks, apparently.

It should also be noted that Abdoulah received her Lifetime Achievement Award from MRU this past September.

Sandra Braun (pictured right) is a professor at MRU, and a contributor to The Calgary Journal.

Correction: Due to a misunderstanding, Colleen Abdoulah was reported to be a member of the 50 per cent club, which she is not. Calgary Journal regrets the error.