HGTV Co-Founder Discusses Leadership with York College

Featured photo: Originally posted on York College’s Flickr. Susan Packard on the right.

By Kendra Jones

As co-founder and chief operating officer of HGTV, a network distributed in over 175 countries and territories, Susan Packard described herself as an unlikely leader who found success by building and leading the popular cable channel. Packard spoke at York College about her career on Nov. 12 in the WPAC theatre.

Packard was named woman of the year among cable television and travels frequently, speaking of how to find success in business.

Packard expressed the importance of maintaining three leadership qualities: being connected, keeping the organization fresh and being courageous.

Connecting with customers is key to keeping their interest in your organization. Packard believes that connecting with the customer is the most important skill in business. Packard said that HGTV created a viewer services in 1994 so that people could call in with questions

Even though connecting with customers online is more popular today, HGTV still receives a thousand inquiries a day, half of these being by phone. Being connected with the viewer, distributor and advertiser are all very important.

Technology has impacted the way HGTV was formed; Packard said that it has made connecting with customers so much easier. Customers can now communicate with companies by contacting them on social media, but companies must be careful with managing their brand. Although technology is an easy outlet in which to talk to customers, Packard said that it should not be a substitute for other means.

One of her most important lessons for keeping organizations fresh was to learn from mistakes. “It is always great to try new ideas,” Packard and her HGTV team told the audience how they have taken risks and learned from their mistakes. 

HGTV fans wanted to be able to purchase items that they saw on the television shows, so Packard and her team began creating a QVC-type shopping channel for HGTV that would satisfy those needs.

Soon enough, the Shop at Home network sold home and garden products, but Packard said this turned out to be a failure. Nobody on the HGTV team had any retail background and the company learned that this was not the best route to take to sell their featured items.

“At HGTV, we did a lot of laughing,” said Packard. She added that this helped to keep the environment light, reducing stress.

“Sometimes you may have to stand alone with a vision that you believe in  knowing you will be challenged”, said Packard regarding courage.

Packard knew that with a change in technology, there would need to be new platforms created and that it wouldn’t be easy.

When trying to create a mission statement, not everyone agreed with Packard’s values. In fact, when a student asked Packard if there is a strong importance of having a vision statement, Packard answered that neither a mission or vision statement was established when she was a part of HGTV.

They simply listed values.

Packard planted seeds and defended her values among her fellow employees, knowing that at any point she may have to stand alone with her opinions. Packard held strong beliefs in the importance of diversity, integrity and shared responsibility.

Packard believed that her employees were equals among equals – even though everyone did not comply with each other’s values and thoughts of what HGTV should label as important, Packard grew to realize that you need to work with people that compliment your skill set.

Packard stressed that one person cannot know everything and handle every job. Multiple people in each company need to contribute because they are all able to add different strengths to reach success.

She also explained that recognizing what you know and don’t know is a step towards being courageous because “great leadership is acknowledging that you won’t be a complete leader.”

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