We sat down with Sonya Echols, the new Vice President of Human Resources for Comcast California, to hear about her 2020 goals, her journey from the health care industry to Comcast, and what it means to be a bold thought leader. Prior to Comcast, Sonya led Human Resources for 13,000 employees at DaVita Medical Group in Denver. She’s making her return to California after work took her to Colorado, but she’s no stranger to our state, having graduated from Pepperdine University and working in California for 18 years.
What attracted you to the role of Vice President of Human Resources for Comcast California?
It was really about the people more so than the role. I started off as an exploratory interview… I started meeting with people here in California and loved the people that I met in Denver and loved the people that I met in California and so really, it was the people that got me really excited about Comcast.
You describe yourself as a bold thought leader. What does that mean?
I would say that others may say that Sonya’s not afraid to go against the status quo, to appropriately question the “why” and to challenge people to think about things differently. It has made me understand the importance of being able to articulate that, not only in my professional life, but my personal life as well. It’s important.
You come from the health industry. How has your previous experience prepared you for this new role?
My healthcare experiences, the companies that I’ve worked for previous to coming to Comcast, very complex organizations, complexity around the pharmaceutical industry regulations, how you do business to front line patient care multi-specialty, whether or not it was fee for service versus manage care versus Medicare, MediCal. The complexity and nature of those industries have prepared me for this technology company called Comcast.
Have you found similarities?
There are some similarities. I love to connect the dots, so I’m always looking in ways, how do I take my past experiences and translate them to hopefully understand quicker and better what we’re doing here. And I do find the situations that I dealt with in healthcare around regulations, even organization structures are a little similar. There’s still a lot that I’m having to learn around the technical side of the business, the historical, why we do things the way we do. I’m really fascinated by the level of success that the West Division has had over the years. It’s still different. Of course, here in California things are special and different because unless you’ve worked here before, it can be overwhelming but I’m so fortunate to have had 18 years previous experience.
California has some unique challenges, for example, you experienced and managed a crisis during the Kincade Fire. How was that experience at the one-month mark on the job?
Let’s put it into perspective, we have earthquakes, we have fires, sometimes we have floods in California. There’s a lot going on. I would say that kind of crisis, the fire aspect is a little bit different. I think this Kincade fire was even a little bit different than even previous crisis that I’ve been through because it wasn’t just the Kincade fire, we had the PSPS (Public Safety Power Shutoff) going on, we had smaller fires popping up all around at the same time. It was different because you had all of those additional layers of what was going on and I would say that I was so proud of the way the team came together, everyone just rolled up their sleeves and did what they needed to do. I was very pleased at the way that this team executes in a situation like that. I’m glad that our teammates were safe. This team knows how to execute well.
What are your priorities for 2020?
I think priority number one will always be caring for our teammates and our employees. When I look at the complexities of the talent market and landscape here in Northern California, I know that one-way Comcast California can continue to win is the way we care for our employees. Number two is really focusing externally and wanting to become an employer of choice for folks. One of the things I love about the overall Comcast origination is there’s not a lot of brag, you don’t see a lot of bragging going on about how great we are. And we really are great and being able to send that message out without coming across as cocky, but really being able to get folks to understand how great we are, so that we can be that employer of choice, is another that I’ll be focusing on. The third thing is really making sure we are a best in class human resource organization
In three words, why should anyone work for Comcast?
Caring, culture and investment. Caring because of the way we care, not only for ourselves but our customers as well and we care for our communities, we care for the environment. We are a very caring organization. I would say culture, the California culture is one that is inclusive and allows folks to bring their whole selves to work, they can bring who they are here and contribute. It’s all about the people here. The people make California amazing; the people that we hire, the people that we work with. As far as investment, the investment that we make in our employees, communities and to serve our customers really make us a great organization.
What are some ways you hope to drive culture and employee engagement?
You have to walk the talk. People are smart enough to be able to see through the facade and whether or not a person is real. Authenticity, walking the talk and really living it. Day to day living when you talk about our core values, our pillars, people have to see it in you. It has to be real. That authenticity is important to driving culture.
What are you passionate about outside of the workplace?
I’m passionate about spending time with friends and family. Time is something that we don’t get back. Each year that passes by I always renew my commitment to making sure that I’m having meaningful relationships with the folks that I love. Sometimes we get so busy with our careers, get so busy with our lives that we forget to stop and say “Hey! What’s going? Let’s just go sit, let’s go have dinner, let’s just go talk for an hour.” I’m also passionate about the arts, musical theater, the opera, the symphonies. I used to sing professionally when I was younger!
What advice would you give to young women starting their careers?
Never question their ability to do it. And don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice.
Would you say you needed to hear that throughout the start of your education and/or career?
I would say no because of my parents, they told me I could do anything I put my mind to and that I practice and if worked hard I would do it. Now have I had moments of self-doubt? Of course! But I think some of my friends growing up didn’t have that, so for me I didn’t understand why they were struggling with certain things. They didn’t think that’s what girls could do. Someone asked me a question the other day, “What were your favorite toys growing up?” My death star from Star Wars and my microscope. My parents got me a lot of science and educational stuff. I think for folks that don’t have the support network it’s tough, you have to surround yourself with likeminded people and make sure you have a support network around you, because life is a team sport.