Published November 18, 2003
Volume 11, Number 11

Susan Knox Embraces Success While Supporting the Community  

By George Walsh
Network Editor

Success can be measured in many ways. It should come as no surprise then, that at some point in their careers, a certain portion of those who have achieved financial success realize that their good fortune would not have been possible without the community around them, either as customers or just good neighbors. Many successful people and businesses decide that it’s important to give something back to that community—whether it is in the form of financial support or in sharing some of what they’ve learned along their career path. Susan Knox, vice president and general manager for Northern California and Nevada of Cingular Wireless is not only a successful and valued executive, but also makes efforts to reach out to the community around her as well.

Susan KnoxSusan Knox was born and raised in Chester, New Jersey, attending grade school and high school there and even participating in the Girl Scouts, a rewarding experience that would later lead her to lend her support to such groups. She continued her education at George Washington University in Washington DC, receiving a Bachelors degree in education and a Masters degree in Marketing. Prior to working for Cingular Wireless, she worked for Continental Airlines as a customer service manager, giving her some insight into serving the needs of paying customers as well as respect for their expectations. Her brief employment at Continental, however valuable, is a distant memory. She started at Cingular in 1988 and has been working for the company ever since.

Cingular Wireless is the second largest wireless company in the U.S. The company is a joint venture between the domestic wireless divisions of SBC and BellSouth. SBC owns 60 percent of the company and BellSouth owns 40 percent. Cingular Wireless serves more than 24 million voice and data customers across the United States and provides cellular/PCS service in 43 of the top 50 markets nationwide. Over 50% of the world's Blackberry users are on the Cingular networks. The company’s services include wireless voice and data, GPRS (general packet radio service), interactive messaging, corporate e-mail access, short messaging, and wireless internet. These services seemed like the stuff of science fiction when Knox began her career at Cingular, and getting the public to adopt the first of them, cell phone communication, was no small task.

“When I started in 1988, I was a sales person and wireless had just been introduced,” Knox says. “I always wanted to lead a sales organization. When I became the director of sales in the Baltimore/Washington market, I achieved that goal. Next, I became vice president of sales for the Los Angeles market, a position I accepted because of my desire to be the head of a larger sales organization. Then, after we launched our products and services in the Los Angeles market, I had the opportunity to become vice president and general manager overseeing organizations that included San Diego and Las Vegas.” Currently, Knox oversees 350 employees in the Pleasanton office in Hacienda Business Park and just over 670 employees in the Northern California/Nevada market—a far cry from her initial sales position.

Knox attributes part of her success to being in the right place at the right time. “I was fortunate to get into wireless at the very beginning of wireless in 1988 and I worked very hard as a sales person to be successful. I have to say that our parent company, SBC, really provides opportunities for people who want to do well and have great careers.” She also thinks that it’s important to work from the ground up to understand a business. “I honestly think that the entry-level sales experience I received when I first started out was a key asset. If I had not done that job, I don’t believe I would be where I am now. It really helped me understand the business. In order to sell the product, you really have to understand all the ins and outs.” Now, Knox is involved in virtually every part of the Cingular’s business. She has profit and loss responsibility for her part of the market and is involved in almost everything that goes on, from the wireless network itself to hiring and advertising decisions.

Susan Knox believes that young people—especially young women—need to heed their hearts and intuition as they embark on a career. “They need to set their goals extremely high and understand that they need to listen to themselves and not others when they’re setting those goals,” she says. “They just need to work very hard and do what they love and they will be rewarded. I feel very strongly about that.” In entering a career in a fledgling industry whose success exceeded nearly every pundit’s predictions, Knox’s instincts seem to have been right on the money.

In addition to a family that has been very supportive as she has had to make geographic moves to coincide with her career moves, Knox has also had the support of Stan Sigman, president and CEO of Cingular Wireless. “Stan has been in the wireless industry as long as I have,” Knox says. “So our paths have crossed several times throughout my career. He has given me a lot of opportunities, and I would have to say that he has been really instrumental in my success.”

No organization can survive strictly on the basis of executive guidance and Knox is especially impressed by the human resources available in the East Bay and Tri-Valley. She sees the people she works with as coworkers as well as valuable assets. “There’s just a great of deal knowledge and experience here in the East Bay and we have excellent employees,” she says. “One thing that I noticed when I got up here two years ago is just the high quality workforce that we have here. I leverage that at every opportunity.”

While Knox feels that she has a great job that she could do for a long time to come, she also has personal goals that coincide with her success. “We have a great opportunity, because of the size of our organization, to be very involved in the community. When I got to Northern California, I worked very hard to get involved with a lot of different organizations,” she says. “When I look at my personal and business goals, I realize that I’m at the point in my career where it’s time to really give something back.” Knox was instrumental in getting Cingular Wireless involved in a number of community organizations. “As our business grows here in the East Bay and Tri-Valley, it’s important for us to give back to the community.” Cingular, in fact, makes a bold statement about community service on its web site: “Our corporate commitment is to help communities express and enhance their unique characteristics, to impact the social fabric of the markets we serve and to stimulate innovation and promote local solutions to community needs.” The company as a whole believes that community service not only enhances employee morale but strengthens their skills.

Knox doesn’t just get Cingular involved in the community on a corporate level, but practices what she preaches on a personal level. She volunteers her own time as a Board member for the East Bay Leadership Foundation, Junior Achievement, and the Girl Scouts of San Francisco Bay Area. In addition, she is personally involved with the United Way and Special Olympics of Northern California. Susan Knox is an example that success can’t always be measured by contents of one’s bank account or portfolio. Sometimes, the fact that you’ve worked to make your community a better place can every bit as rewarding. Sometimes, you can have both.


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