New Rules of the Game with Susan Packard

Meet Susan Packard, a team player for powerhouse media brands like HBO, CNBC and HGTV.

Susan was raised in a family of six, with her first-generation American-Italian grandparents living two doors down and aunts, uncles and cousins all on one street in a Detroit suburb. She grew up believing in the importance of hard work, family and a good education. Whenever she was out of school during high school and college, Susan worked for her dad, who sold direct mail to Detroit agencies.

One day, she wandered into an empty board room at the communications firm Ross Roy and thought “This is what I want to do – understand why people buy stuff, what excites them, what they can’t live without.” Susan didn’t have the words for that at the time, but she wanted to build brands.

After graduating from Michigan State University, Susan got a job in consumer research. In 1980, a college friend who worked for HBO encouraged her to join the growing company. She took a leap and moved to Chicago, beginning her media career. Susan stayed at HBO for eight years before taking a job with CNBC.

In January 1994, she became co-founder of Scripps Networks Interactive, which she helped to build up to a market value of more than $10 billion. At Scripps, Susan became the chief operating officer of HGTV. Under her guidance, HGTV became one of the fastest growing cable networks in television history.

“When the idea for HGTV was laid out for me, I completely saw the draw,” she says. “This was the time when people were gravitating back into home and so it made complete sense to me.”

The decision to help create HGTV was a personal one for Susan, as well. “I had a really good home life growing up so the idea of trying to perpetuate that on television in some way that could communicate to the audience was really attractive to me,” she says.

After 16 years with Scripps, Susan left the media industry so she would have more freedom to spend time on projects she finds meaningful. “Today, I write, speak and work with women in all stages of life, at for-profit and not-for-profit companies,” she says. “For any small difference I might make through my work, I’m grateful.”

When looking over resumes and advising those just entering the workforce, Susan keeps her eye out for  few key things. “I’m not crazy about looking at a resume where somebody has worked at five different places in five years,” she says. “I really like to see some continuity because then you wonder why they’ve left so quickly.”

She also looks for candidates who went above and beyond required community service hours and those who played college sports. “That will show me that they’ve got discipline, they’re organized and they’re able to multitask; so that’s always attractive to me,” she says.

As a high school student, writing was one of Susan’s favorite pastimes and she dreamed of someday writing her own book. That dream was placed on the back burner while she worked on her career, but right before she left Scripps, Susan began working on an outline for a book on innovation.

“A girlfriend of mine who had written a couple of business books said, ‘You know, I have been annihilated by books on innovation. I think it would be interesting if you told your career story,'” Susan says. “So I just sat back and thought about the reasons why I was successful. I created an outline, interviewed a dozen CEOs and then I wrote the book.”

In February 2015, New Rules of the Game: 10 Strategies for Women in the Workplace was published. The book focuses on how women can improve gamesmanship – a strategic way of thinking regularly seen in the video game and sports worlds, and most often among men – that develops creativity, focus, optimism, teamwork and competitiveness.

She built successful businesses, raised a son, wrote a book and did a TED Talk in Los Angeles, among other things. So, what’s next for Susan?

“One of the things I’m really excited about is going to Michigan State in April and May to talk about my book,” she says. “I’m also planning an agenda for a weekend on leadership, mindfulness and meditation for a group of Michigan State alumnae named Sparta Women.”

Story appeared in the March/April 2016 issue (pgs 112 & 113) of Orange Appeal magazine.

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