FRONT OFFICE BY MARY COLLINS

Person To Watch: Cox’s Lacey Lewis

The Media Financial Management Associations is honoring outstanding industry executives with its People to Watch awards. Among this year's honorees is the SVP of finance for Cox Enterprises who has consistently shown a willingness to take on new challenges. Now, if she could only find time for to earn that helicopter pilot's license.

As industry veterans can attest, their million-mile career journeys have required stepping out of their comfort zones at numerous times along the way.

That has certainly been the case for Lacey Lewis, SVP of finance for Cox Enterprises and one of Media Financial Management Association’s People to Watch in 2012. She was interviewed by The Financial Manager editor, Janet Stilson, for the current issue of our member magazine. 

“A year ago I took responsibility for some corporate functions, some of which I’d had association with very, very early in my career, some of which I had absolutely no insight into or association with,” Lewis explains. “It’s been fun to learn about new pieces of Cox as well as the opportunity to work with people I have not worked with before. And that’s kind of been my career.”

Lewis’ willingness to step into unfamiliar territory has also required venturing into new areas beyond the corporate walls. This includes her role in analyzing industry benchmarks that may be used for evaluating the relative performance of the company’s current operations and the potential of new business opportunities.

“Lacey plays a real critical role in trying to anticipate what the ‘comps’ are in our business,” explains John Dyer, EVP and CFO of Cox Enterprises. “She has to find the comparable set of companies that are in our space and look at how they’re performing and set expectations for how our Cox businesses perform. We’re not always the largest in our space, but we take special pride in being the best.”

Lewis also plays a critical role in helping Cox with its analysis of new business ventures that require it to step out of familiar territory.  That’s been an essential component of the growth strategy for a company that began by owning a newspaper at the turn of the 20th century and over the next 112 years has grown into one of the nation’s largest media communications enterprises.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

Today, Cox operates a rich stable of newspapers, TV and radio stations; the Cox Media Group advertising rep firms; and several automotive services businesses, including Manheim, the world’s leading provider of vehicle remarketing service, and AutoTrader.com. Most significantly, the company defies the “media conglomerate” image by a corporate strategy that focuses on organizing its various media platforms in market clusters that provide “360” advertising solutions for national and local businesses.

Lewis, who has been with Cox for 27 years and helps the company optimize that strategy, oversees one of its recent acquisitions, the online search business Kudzu.com, which provides information and consumer feedback on products and services for homeowners and family members in a huge number of markets across the country. She also has oversight of financial planning and analysis, audit, accounting, supply chain, fleet and newsprint supply. All told, Cox has more than 60,000 employees and annual revenues of about $15 billion.

Lewis holds three key attributes that have given her the ability to do her various jobs effectively, according to Greg Dalvito, managing director and co-head of technology mergers and acquisitions at Barclays Capital, who has known her as a client.

“She’s very tech savvy, and from an M&A and finance standpoint, she gets the numbers really well and the deal structures really well,” Dalvito says. “The second thing is she’s really pragmatic. She kind of cuts through it really quickly and makes good business decisions.”

Lewis is also “incredibly affable,” Dalvito adds. He recalls instances where Lewis held a view contrary to that of a broader group of executives, and with a real “level of passion and commitment” she was able to communicate her views in a way that made the others come around to her side.

On the other hand, “she’s perfectly happy to change her point of view if someone has a different perspective.” That’s fairly unusual, Dyer notes — to both sway others and be swayed.

“She gets people to work not just for her, but with her. And that makes it a heck of a lot more fun,” Dyer adds. “She gets up at the crack of dawn and goes to the gym and comes to work with a big smile every day. It’s contagious.”

Those attributes are coming in very handy for Lewis right now, with her roles in overseeing a fleet of some 13,000 vehicles for the tech people in Cox’s telecom operations and in overseeing the company’s supply chain department, which is focused on implementing expense efficiencies related to products and services purchased by Cox’s various divisions.

“It’s fun to go in and look at how we’re doing things and challenge the leadership team to think about things differently and maybe how we can do things better or cheaper,” Lewis says.

“The opportunity that I’m most excited about for the company is that as we continue to produce free cash flow, we can use it to invest in companies that have a different growth profile than a number of our businesses, which are more mature,” she adds.

Given these insights, it may not be surprising to hear Lewis say that if she ever finds the time, she’d really love to learn how to fly a helicopter “because you can get from point to point easier and quicker.”

It’s easy to see why that would be attractive to her, considering all of the responsibilities she’s juggling at Cox Enterprises. It also serves as another example of her willingness to step — or even fly — out of her comfort zone. That’s something we’ll all need to be willing to do in order to move our careers and our organizations in the right direction.

Lewis’s willingness to step into new territories and the skills she relies upon for venturing into new areas are also shared with MFM’s other People to Watch in 2012. They include William “Scott” Moody, CFO of Bonten Media Group, who was profiled in our last Front Office column; Valerie Blackburn, market controller for CBS Radio’s Los Angeles stations; and Patrick Walsh, EVP-COO and CFO of Emmis Communications.

Our 2012 honorees were selected by the Editorial Advisory Board for The Financial Manager .

TFM is widely regarded as the leading business management resource for the industry. A complimentary digital copy of current issue is now available on our website. I hope you will take a few minutes to read more about Lacey Lewis, Scott Moody and their co-honorees. 

While their jobs and companies may not be the same as yours, adopting some of the qualities that make them People to Watch in 2012 can help us all to make the rights moves for our careers and companies in the coming year.


Mary M. Collins is president & CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary. Her column appears in TVNewsCheck every other week. You can read her earlier columns here.