Executive Spotlight: NBCUniversal’s Pat Langer

A person smiling for the camera  Description generated with very high confidence A “North Star,” “Beacon of Light,” “mentor,” “confidant” and “friend.” These are just some of the terms we’ve heard to describe Pat Langer, NBCUniversal’s Executive Vice President of Human Resources, who will retire this summer after 39 years of service in our industry. Pat’s career, most recently with NBCUniversal, has been tremendously impactful as she innovated and developed within the HR field around her.  We had the opportunity to sit down with Pat and ask her about her history and legacy.

Q. With a law degree, you could have pursued any number of fields. How did you make the transition to human resources?
I spent years as a litigator and labor and employment lawyer, both at law firms and in-house. In 2000, I was given the opportunity to serve as the Executive Vice President of Legal, Business Affairs and Human Resources at Lifetime Entertainment Services, and I jumped at the chance to pivot and become an HR leader, as well as Lifetime’s General Counsel.  I was part of the senior management team which led Lifetime to become the #1 rated basic cable network in 2001.  Ten years later I returned to my home, NBCUniversal, to serve as Executive Vice President of Human Resources.  NBCUniversal was essentially a massive startup on the HR side as it de-coupled from GE, and I had the privilege of building HR from the ground up.

Q. Your LinkedIn profile states that your journey with NBC began in 1988. What position did you hold and what attracted you to the industry?
My first job as in-house counsel at NBC was a junior employment attorney position.  You could say I “grew up” at NBC, working for 11 years in a series of legal roles before becoming head of the Employment Law Practice Group and the company ombudsperson.  I was attracted to the media industry for many reasons.  Of course, it can be glamorous to ride the elevator with your favorite celebrities, but the constant challenges of dealing with such a diverse workforce and group of businesses – creative, technical, sports, news, stations, etc., is what kept me excited to head to 30 Rock every morning. Each day, for better or worse, is never the same.

Q. What factors compelled you to return to NBCUniversal in 2011?
Leaving NBC in 2000 was a huge risk but pivotal in my career trajectory.  I learned how to lead an HR organization and how to best utilize my employment law background in a practical way.  Returning as the CHRO to a company I loved, with an understanding of the legacy NBC culture and a fresh perspective as Comcast recently acquired the company, was a challenge I couldn’t pass up.

Q.  There have been a lot of changes within the HR discipline since you began your career. In your eyes, what was the most significant change in terms of its impact on the business?
I feel the most significant change in HR across my career has been the change from a perceived “personnel” and administrative focus to being a strategic partner.  HR now has a seat at the table to advise business leaders and create customized guidance and support for each business unit to best utilize and plan for their people needs going forward.

Q. While at Lifetime Networks you created the Lifetime Volunteer Corps which enabled employees to partner with women’s shelters on a variety of activities. In 2016, you launched HR for Good, a program that merged pro bono work with professional development within NBCUniversal’s resources department. What prompted you to integrate social responsibility into the workplace?
As an attorney, I was very familiar with pro bono work, but I hadn’t thought about applying the concept as an HR professional until I volunteered for The Taproot Foundation a few years ago.  The Taproot Foundation is dedicated to driving social change by connecting nonprofits with skilled professionals who provide their services pro bono.  After participating in one of Taproot’s pro bono “speed consulting” events, I was inspired to bring skills-based volunteering to NBC.  It was a win-win for both the nonprofits (who got “state of the art” advice) and our employees, who were able to leverage their HR skills to give back to deserving nonprofits while also receiving professional development and the opportunity to network with fellow colleagues.  On a personal note, I now serve as a Taproot Board member. Click here to read the HR Pulse article about NBCUniveral’s HR for Good.

Q.  In 2013, the NBCUniversal Talent Lab was opened in Los Angeles as an in-house resource for innovative employee development. Five years later, can you share insight into the success of the Lab? Lessons learned? 
The Talent Lab first opened in 2013 as NBCUniversal’s corporate university focused on maintaining the NBCU culture, and equipping employees to lead and innovate in a challenging media and entertainment industry. By rallying the support and involvement of executive sponsors, business leaders and engaged employees, the Talent Lab has designed and delivered a growing number of learning experiences across the globe. Now just five years later, NBCUniversal has invested in building four physical Talent Lab locations, with a fifth Lab scheduled to open this fall at the Telemundo Center in Miami. Development at all levels of the organization is taking place as a result of strong HR leadership and business partnership.

Q.  With innovation being a key component of the business, how have you worked to ensure that NBCUniversal has the talent pool to drive the business forward?
Innovation should start with every company’s most critical asset, its people. Over the last 6+ years, NBCUniversal’s internal Executive Search team has utilized a consultative and proactive approach to be a driving force in identifying and attracting internal and external high-caliber, diverse, innovative leadership talent.  With deep market expertise and knowledge, the team acts as trusted business advisors to corporate and business line leaders by delivering full service executive search execution, proactive market mapping and intelligence projects and executive talent pipelining services.  In addition, NBCUniversal has an unparalleled reach through the storytelling, reporting and experiences we offer on all platforms. We recently launched our employee value proposition, “Here You Can.”  “Here You Can” speaks to the diversity of the businesses, growth and opportunities that exist across all areas at NBCUniversal.  We hope through the various internal and external activations around our EVP, that NBCU is viewed as a pioneering champion of excellence where you are empowered to own your career.

Q.  What career accomplishment was the most rewarding for you?
The most rewarding accomplishment has been coming back to NBCUniversal in 2011 and creating a world-class HR organization.  It was a daunting challenge in the midst of changing ownership, leadership and strategic direction. While the company was experiencing the most significant and far-reaching evolution in its history, I knew HR would face the doubly difficult challenge of providing seamless service to the business while simultaneously pursuing every opportunity to change and improve the systems, processes and policies of the existing HR infrastructure.  There were plenty of obstacles along the way but when I take a look back on everything our HR team has accomplished, I’m extremely proud.

Q.  What was the biggest challenge you faced in your career? How did you handle it? If you could return to that challenge, what would you do differently based on what you know today?
On a personal level, trying to find a work/life balance was a constant challenge that I faced throughout my career.  I have two sons who are now adults, Alex and Matt, and I commuted into the city for work from the suburbs, which took a lot of time away from them as they were growing up.  When I got home, family was my priority and I spent very little time on myself.  Today, technology makes it easier to work remotely and check in from wherever you are, but it’s a constant challenge for anyone to juggle the demands of a job with family.  Looking back, I think I would have felt less guilty as I muddled through the early years of raising children now knowing my sons would be well adjusted adults and respect my commitment to helping people through my work.

Q.  What is your most memorable cable industry moment?
Bringing “Project Runway” to Lifetime, which took place after a lengthy litigation with NBC!  It’s ironic that “Project Runway” is returning to Bravo – I suppose the show and I have come full circle together.

Q. In her book, “Leading So People Will Follow,” Erika Andersen cites you as a Trustworthy Exemplar. How has trust played a role in your career success?
In her book, Erika describes me rejoining NBC in 2011 as a “wild time” and she was right!  It was a time of massive change and uncertainty and called for someone to lead with honesty, thoughtfulness and fairness - strong traits I pride myself on.  I needed to be a trustworthy, reliable and steadfast guidepost in order for people to stand behind and execute the long-term HR mission and vision and turn it into a reality.

Q. Rapid, ongoing change is a staple of our innovative industry, yet change is difficult for most people. What has been your approach to embracing change and what strategies have you employed to help employees with change in the workplace?
An author who has really resonated with me is William Bridges.  His book, Transitions, is a model I’ve turned to at various points throughout my career in regards to embracing change.  Bridges uses the word “transitions” to mean the mental and emotional shifts people go through during times of change.  He describes this process as having three stages – “Endings”, where people think about what the change means for them and mourn the loss of the old, “Neutral Zone,” where people stop to catch their breath and re-gather their energy to move on, and “New Beginnings,” where you’re ready to re-engage and commit to the new reality.  Bridges’ point of view is that if you understand these stages, you’ll be able to move through them as quickly and painlessly as possible.  I found his model extremely useful during my first year as head of HR for NBC when I was tasked with guiding many through uncertain changes.  On a personal level, I look forward to the “New Beginnings” I’ll be facing when I enter the next phase of my life upon my retirement.

Q.  What is the best piece of advice you ever received and who gave it to you?
A former General Counsel Executive at NBC told me to “deliver your message in 10 words or less.”  Of course, this was meant not literally, but to urge me to be articulate and succinct in my delivery when counseling clients.  I find myself remembering this piece of advice while I’m mentoring employees, and especially when I have to relay a difficult message.

Q.  When you were growing up, what was your dream job?
Believe it or not, I always wanted to be an attorney!

Q. What advice do you have for someone who is just starting a career in HR?
The best advice is the most obvious – to learn as much as you can about the business.  Be proactive about raising your hand to take on any assignment because the possibilities are endless in this industry.  Our HR team put this advice to good use by launching tHRive University.  With the tagline “Your Career.  Produced Here.” the program directly aligns with our core competencies and empowers employees in the HR community to succeed at every stage of their career with a selection of courses designed to develop their skills and provide networking opportunities.  In addition, we recently launched a Cooperative Education Program, which is a 3 to 12-month immersive independent study where employees receive career training in different areas of HR within the company.  Click here to read the HR Pulse article on tHRive University.

Q.  What does the next chapter hold for you?
I plan to continue my passion for pro bono work by volunteering for nonprofits.  It will be great to be able to give my undivided attention to help them achieve their goals.  Traveling the world as much as I can is at the top of my bucket list.  But most of all I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time with family and friends.  I consider myself so fortunate to have four generations of my family surrounding me.  Both my parents are still with me and we now have a granddaughter, Leah, who is nearly three years old.  I made the difficult decision to retire soon after Leah was born, because as much as I have loved the past seven years at NBCUniversal, I know that those years to enjoy four generations will not last forever.  In a year’s time, I hope you find me with Leah at the beach – my parents, husband and children nearby – all dipping our toes into the water and enjoying life’s simple pleasures.

Pat will be passing the torch to Vicki Williams, the current Senior Vice President Compensation, Benefits and HRIS. Pat has been a long-time mentor to Vicki, and Vicki is quick to remark how much Pat has impacted her both professionally and personally.  “Over the past seven years, Pat has taken the time to guide and coach me in both an honest and patient manner, and I owe much of my professional development to her.  She always gives freely of her time and generously shares her knowledge and expertise.  She has created a culture at NBCUniversal of integrity, fairness and compassion, and we will carry it honorably forward.”

 

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HR Pulse is a bi-monthly resource published exclusively for the members of CTHRA. 

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