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Carolyn Chambers : “If I Put the Work In, I Will Succeed.”

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Carolyn Chambers passed away on Monday, August 8, 2011. We are grateful for all her wonderful contributions to both her profession and to the Eugene OR community. This interview was first published May 29, 2008 and is now republished in her memory.

Thank you, Carolyn…

All of us have been told, at one time and in one way or another, to “grab life by the horns.” It is a well worn phrase.  Few of us, however, have actually taken the courage to do so and with such determination as Carolyn Chambers.

Carolyn Chambers is an Oregon native and graduate of the University of Oregon.  She is currently the Chairman and CEO of the Oregon based company, Chambers Communications Corporation, a business that she built from the ground up.  The corporation currently consists of three television broadcast stations, a television, movie, and video production company, an internet cable system, and an internet service provider.

She has served in many prestigious organizations as well, including the National Cable Television Association, state cable organizations for Oregon, Washington, and California, the Pacific Northwest Cable Television Association, and on the C-SPAN board of directors.  She is also a charter member of the National Chapter of Women in Cable and served as its third national president.  She has served on the board of directors of two Fortune 500 companies, the Federal Reserve Bank, and various other corporations. For her outstanding achievements in the business world and in life, she has been awarded such awards as Eugene’s First Citizen Award in 1985, Philanthropist of the Year in 1994, and the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Oregon.

Carolyn Chamber’s amazing venture into the business world began much like any other student’s when she came to the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon as a freshman in college. At the university she made a point of taking advantage of as many opportunities that she could.  “It is very important to get involved in activities so that you meet other students, not just being in your own tight circle.”

Among these activities was joining a sorority, where she interacted and formed lasting relationships with many different University of Oregon students.  She also fondly remembers some of the crucial people during this time that helped her succeed.  “Some of the professors were among the University’s greatest resources… Dr. Dull, who taught Eastern Foreign Studies and Professor Johnson who wrote a business law book,” were two professors that she recalls as being a great help to her.  “They are both outstanding professors that I remember to this day.”

Carolyn Chambers graduated from the University of Oregon in 1953.  In 1957, she invested a sum of money in a single television station in the Eugene area. The decision was a result of all she had learned and experienced up to this point.  Using a loan obtained from her father, the owner of a successful automobile dealership, she immersed herself in the venture.  The rest is history, and the endeavor was a success.

However, like most undertakings, it was not an easy one.  She identifies her faith in the belief that “If I put the work in, I would succeed” as her driving motivator.  “There was a time in the early days of the television station when the funds coming in didn’t always meet the outgo, and there was a lot of hand wringing that took place.  There were days when I despaired, but the next day I’d get up and say it’s going to be better.”

In 1959, she and the other investors she partnered with were granted a license for KEZI-TV in Eugene Oregon and formed Liberty Communications Incorporated, which was sold to AT&T in the year 2000.  Chambers had found an area of business that she was drawn to, and as a result of the deal, retained KEZI-TV and four cable systems in Washington and California, thus forming the Chambers Corporation.

Chambers is an avid Duck fan and a long supporter of her Alma Mater’s academic and sports programs.  “I want the Chambers Corporation to help the university to create winners.”  Carolyn says.

The Chambers Corporation hires students from the University of Oregon in broadcasting and news programs as interns, exposing them to experience in the business world before they graduate.   Employees of the company also teach at the University, bringing their real world knowledge to students in the classroom.

In 1994, Chambers sent her thanks to the institution that had helped her to succeed over forty years before in the form of a one million dollar gift to the University of Oregon Law School. With these funds, the Center for Law and Entrepreneurship was formed.  She is currently an active part of the Center’s advisory Board and oversees expansion of the program.

Programs that have branched out from the center since then are the Technology Entrepreneurship Fellow Program in 2002 and the Small Business Clinic, established in January of 2004.  “I thought [the law school] was getting a little too one sided in their program,” she says.  With her gift, the school could expand in new and exciting ways that would benefit students.

She also gave money to the University of Oregon’s prestigious journalism school.  The gift went to help create more programs for electronic journalism, to expand beyond just the written word.  Additionally she endowed the University’s celebrated business school with a gift as well, “I wanted it to do well, that was my school,” she says lightheartedly.

Carolyn Chambers donates her time helping other important causes as well.  When remembering individuals who have inspired her in life, she recalls a woman named Susan Sygall that she worked with last year on an international project to help people with handicaps. “[Susan Sygall] is in a wheelchair, and she just does remarkable things; she doesn’t need or ask for help from anybody.”

Carolyn Chambers is also proud of the programming that her corporation airs to help educate and steer people away from the harmful effects of drugs.

Her advice to students leaving college and entering the business world is, “Go in with a spirit and willingness to do whatever is asked of [you] and try and go further.  [You] will definitely be noticed and will be the ones that will recieve promotions.  Don’t be the nine to fiver that runs out the door.”

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39 Comments - (Leave a comment! »)

  • Shawna said:

    I found this well written and inspiring. I liked the fact that she gave back, even as she was climbing the ladder of success and the article wasn’t just about her business accomplishments, but how she tried to help her community as well. I also liked the fact that she had the humility to acknowledge other people who had inspired her as well.

  • Gail Gentry said:

    I was very much impressed with Carolyn Chambers. She has focused on helping others in different ways. It is so nice to see someone with her financial means who is clearly paying it forward.

  • Randi - Hawaii said:

    Carolyn is clearly a strong woman who was ahead of her time. She pursued an educated risk and she reaped the rewards

  • Jonathan – Arizona said:

    this was a story which left me conflicted. On one hand, I found muself admiring Ms. Chamber’s ambition and drive, especially considering the conservative era in which she made her mark. However, upon reflection, it occurred to me that this story’s title is a bit misleading, when one considers that Ms. Chamber’s personal path to prominence was paved by a generous, and some would say extravagant, $100,000 loan from her father after graduation. While hard work and perseverance are certainly keys to personal success, the patronage of an incredibly wealthy family never hurts, and I feel like this fact should have been explored further by the author. Receiving assistance from her family by no means discounts Ms. Chamber’s accomplishments, but I believe it to be somewhat disingenuous to suggest, via headline or otherwise, that this women’s success was purely the result of hard work.

  • Melanie said:

    I found this article to be very informative. I began to admire Carolyn Chambers for her accomplishments and willingness to do what was necessary to succeed.

  • Linda D said:

    I quite enjoyed and was buoyed up by the article on Carolyn Chambers and it gave me the boost to keep plugging away at my project.

  • Kate R said:

    I enjoyed reading this and felt that it told a compelling story. What a refreshing approach to highlight good news . . the inspiring and stimulating side of the human condition!

    The story about Carol Chambers was interesting and well written. I liked the use of her comments and quotes throughout the story to personalize the career of this very impressive individual. There was a lot of information to present in this article, and it was done in a style that was easy to read and flowed easily through the different aspects of her professional life.

  • Kate R said:

    What a refreshing approach to highlight good news . .
    .the inspiring and stimulating side of the human condition!

    The story about Carol Chambers was interesting and well written. I liked the use of her comments and quotes throughout the story to personalize the career of this very impressive individual. There was a lot of information to present in this article, and it was done in a style that was easy to read and flowed easily through the different aspects of her professional life.

  • Donna– California said:

    I read this post-death article on Carolyn Chambers, fascinated that she had such a rich hold on the broadcasting, TV and Internet world. Although, I felt it was ‘inspiring’ and her quotes great, I still wanted more about the tough times. Her father floated her a loan from an automotive business, and I wanted to hear that she paid him back. Serving on Fortune 500 boards might also have warranted a quote regarding what she learned that might have really appealed to business readers and entrepreneurs starting out. Her tenacity and creative genius is warranted in her credits in TV, business and starting law programs for her University of Oregon. Although I felt it was all there in the article, I felt a little more about her ‘character traits’ would have made me march out and try harder in the business world based on her legend. Maybe she spoke up when others bore silence well in business meetings or had ‘hip-pocket’ topics to liven up a meeting dealing with broadcasting in the beginning. I love human interest and maybe her hobbies could also add a human element to a wonderful human being. It was well written and did document all her achievements. The world of cable TV in this day of Oprah and (O.W.N.) is still popular and I’d love to have learned more in that area in the article.

  • Lana – Pennsylvania said:

    The writer of this article portrayed Carolyn Chambers as the successful, hardworking, business savvy woman that stopped at nothing. The article was also very informative of her achievements, education background, business endeavors, services in organizations, and personal insight of Ms. Chambers as a person.

    The part that really hits me directly in the heart is that, with Ms. Chambers success, she gave back to others, whether it was monetary success or simply knowledge and life’s experiences. She gave of herself to others in her life and even in her death. Ms. Chambers made a statement that will not be forgotten by those lives she touched. It is my heart’s desire to give to others in need, because Lord knows there have been many who have given when I was in need.

    After reading this particular article, it has given me the motivation and drive to stop at nothing.

  • Angel said:

    As a recent college graduate entering the workforce I have seen firsthand the hardships faced by those who want to make a difference but don’t have the means of which to do so. It can be a hard road to take, entering the world in pursuit of a meaningful career. I think that one thing that may not be stressed enough in college is to branch out, engage in as many things as possible, meet new people beyond the usual social scene. Along the way you might just meet someone who could inspire you in some way to do something that you never thought of doing.

    Chambers story also illustrates the importance of providing others who have come from the same or similar situations with opportunities previously not afforded to. Although not a new concept, it is still important to share stories of individuals who are giving back.

    I think that Carolyn Chambers story is one that would benefit many people today, specifically college graduates. However, I don’t see this story as an inspirational piece to everyone. There are so many stories to be told out there which have the ability to meet everyone on different levels. I would like to share stories like these, inspirational people who didn’t have such advantages and still made out successful in a dog eat dog world such as this.

  • Elizabeth – China said:

    It is inspirational and clearly written, quite good as it is.

  • Peggy – Wisconsin said:

    I enjoyed it a lot. I liked hearing about her business success. I think I would have liked to hear a little bit more, though, about her as a person, how she got so motivated to work so hard! The fact that her father is a car dealer might have had something to do with it, but she certainly was unique in coming out of college and going right into business.

  • Samantha -- North Carolina said:

    I just read the article on Carolyn Chambers. I enjoyed the article and found it to be very informative and interesting.

  • Vittorio -- Phillipines said:

    By turning back the hands of time and returning to Chambers’ school days, the article provided an effective link between her past and her many achievements in life. It also offered an insight into the character of Chambers as a student, such as her outward gaze in life, which is probably one of the reasons why she became an effective business executive and person.

    One area that the article could have gone deeper, which could have bridged the gap between Chambers’ start of her company and her success, was to provide one or two examples of the many trials that her companies went through, particularly during its start-up stages. It would be interesting to know some of the stories behind the “lot of hand wringing that took place,” and along the way give readers a glimpse of the decision-making process and strong character of Chambers, as well as a better understanding of the broadcasting industry during her time.

    The article also could have talked a bit about Chambers’ personal life, such as: did she have a husband and children. If she had, how did she balance being a working woman and a wife and mother? If she remained single, then the article could have also delved into the important causes that Chambers took interest in.

    For instance, there was a brief mention on the handicapped woman, Susan Sygall, who inspired Chambers. The quote from Chambers about Sygall was brief and not sufficient to provide readers a wider peek into the life of Sygall and how the woman’s strength of character reinforced Chambers’ own strengths.

    However, the article was overall a good piece that would inspire readers who may not have time to read long articles, particularly people like us in the broadcasting and mass media industries who also feel the need to be motivated by noteworthy role models and captains of the industry.

  • Keri said:

    I have taken a look at your website and I believe it to be a real inspiration and probably brings a lot of joy to people in these hard times. I read this article by Trevor Scandalios about Carolyn Chambers and I found the article to be not only inspiring but I believe he did a good job capturing the depth of dedication this woman had not only to her dream but to the dreams of others

  • Diane said:

    I am excited about your magazine because it supports Change from many different avenues. I read this article on Carolyn Chambers for two reasons. I am a former Oregonian. I agree with her statement and believe if you put the time, energy, and work that you will succeed. I thought the article was well written. It provided lots of information about her. I found it lacking in telling me who this extraordinary woman was as a human Being vs doing. What really made Carolyn tick?

  • Jake said:

    i believe in your cause or advocacy. When i first checked out your website to see what it is all about i was pleasantly surprised that it carried stories on basically ordinary people who are trying to make a difference on society. I believe that our country – the Philippines – despite the bad press (or no press for that matter) it has been having has its own fair share of unsung heroes.

    Anyway, I read this article about Ms. Carolyn Chambers because it was the first story on the Hall of Fame, and because its title had a typo, which should have been spelled In Memoriam. Researching about Ms. Chambers, I found out that she was a pioneer and trailblazer in many ways, but these weren’t mentioned in the article. Examples of which are:
    • she was the only woman who graduated in her class
    • she was a pioneer in the cable TV industry in the US
    • she was also a pioneering woman in the construction industry
    • and when she launched her first tv station, she was only 25.
    The line which said, In 1957, she invested a sum of money in a single television station in the Eugene area, would have been more powerful if the article instead mentioned that she did this when she was still 25.
    What’s commendable about the article is that it presents success as a product of hard work and the willingness to go the extra mile.

  • Lily – China said:

    Many inspiring and encouraging words are used in this article and these words are the highlights of this article.On the other side,however,I think this article lacks something which can make it more convincing and harmonious.If I compare this type of article to a great music,I would say that a best music not only needs a fascinating beginning and a greatly impressing end,but some supporting up-and-down episodes which make the whole music harmonious to listen to and touching in every aspect. An article of this kind , in the same way,needs some heartshaking plots which can strongly support the viewpoints of the writer as well as the great image of the eminent person in it.
    To be honest, I think what really touch me are the summary philosophical sentences throughout the whole article,so in this way this article reads more of an essay than a biography.

  • Marsha -- Wisconsin said:

    All of the people featured on your website deserve the attention given them. Yet, this article left me somewhat disappointed. The article did a very fine job of reporting her fine accomplishments. The difficulty came in the lack of “how” to support the “what” of all she had done. An anecdote, best in her own words, of a challenge she met, or of something that just fell into her lap; or SOMETHING that would give a sense for her personality. What was it about her unique self that made her an inspiration to so many people? The note about her death was another missed opportunity to share anything unique about this great woman. Something about a parting legacy would have been a great honor bestowed in print

  • Kortney said:

    This article immediately drew my attention due to her strong, personal statement. It is fascinating to learn how lasting impressions can be made in the lives of others, just by the simple choices that are made in life. Carolyn’s personal and professional achievements are proof that one can make a difference if he or she chooses to make the attempt. The article is very well-written, motivational and inspiring.

  • Lily said:

    Many inspiring and encouraging words are used in this article and these words are the highlights of this article.On the other side,however,I think this article lacks something which can make it more convincing and harmonious.If I compare this type of article to a great music,I would say that a best music not only needs a fascinating beginning and a greatly impressing end,but some supporting up-and-down episodes which make the whole music harmonious to listen to and touching in every aspect. An article of this kind , in the same way,needs some heartshaking plots which can strongly support the viewpoints of the writer as well as the great image of the eminent person in it.
    To be honest, I think what really touches me are the summary philosophical sentences throughout the whole article,so in this way this article reads more of an essay than a biography.

  • Amy -- Indiana said:

    This article was informative but read like a flat biography. I don’t see Winners Within Us™ as a fluff ezine, but I do feel like it gives the impression of offering something more motivating, enchanting and touching than a biography.

  • Wes said:

    The article was inspiring for two reasons. The first is because it does not gloss over the work aspect of making a business successful. So many articles make everything sound simple and lead readers to believe that they don’t need to work hard to build a strong business. The second reason is reading about a female that was able to build a strong business during a time when the business world was dominated by men.

  • Lois said:

    I believe I do have some constructive criticism for you. We learned in journalism school to pack our punch in the headline or the lead sentence (or both), and in some cases these stories do that. In other cases it seems to take awhile to get to the point. I refer specifically to the Carolyn Chambers piece that opens with background info. Other than that minor consideration, the site looks great.

  • Cindie -- Virginia said:

    I feel that your publication is one that I would like to support as a contributor.

    I liked the profile of Carolyn Chambers. It’s a well-written piece that quickly takes the reader through her life’s professional accomplishments, provides a few tips for those just starting out, such as”Go in with a spirit and willingness to do whatever is asked of [you] and try and go further.” The piece also highlights several inspiring ways she gives back to the community. Considering the time period when she began her career and what the working world was like at the time in corporate America, it would have been appropriate to include something about any challenges she faced as a woman in what is traditionally a male-dominated field.

  • Kaitlyn said:

    The title alone grabbed my attention because I too believe success is directly derived from the amount of work you put into something. The article itself was very informative and inspiring. It told the story of a woman who did not give up until she reached her goals. However, I do believe that the author of the story should not have listed Mrs. Chambers accomplishments until closer to the end of the article. If he would have started by explaining how Mrs. Chambers achieved all she did and explained how hard working she was and then told the reader how that hard work payed off I believe the article would have gotten its point across more effectively. With this said, the article was well written and thought out. Mrs. Chambers sounds like the type of person who I want to be as I grow up. She stuck to what she loved and gave back to the people who helped her succeed. Her determination is evident throughout the article.

  • Hannah -- Montana said:

    After reading this article I was impressed by the self made media tycoon. I enjoyed the part about Chambers Corporation hiring University of Oregon students as company interns. To bolster this section I think it would have been great to talk with a student intern and share their story about working with the Chambers Corporation. I also loved the small section about Susan Sygall and why she inspired Chambers, it’s a small insight into what Chambers really values.

  • M.E. -- Virginia said:

    I really enjoyed the article on Ms. Chambers in a large part, I think, because of her industry of choice (I am also a woman who owns a film production and distribution business). I think it is important to highlight people who overcome the odds to fulfull their dreams.

  • leland -- Kansas said:

    I must confess I haven’t heard of the magazine before but after checking it out a little bit, I admit I love the idea in general. I am a positive person who tries to constantly think positive thoughts, which has been difficult lately. I used to live in Florence, just west of Eugene. This is a positive story but it seems typical for someone in her position. I guess I wanted to read more about overcoming obstacles, fighting for her position, but she just took a path. The article seemed to be full of facts with no emotion. I believe emotion is a critical aspect in inspiring others.

  • fox said:

    I found this to be a very precise article that elaborates on the meaningful aspects of the subjects life and career. I think a magazine that tries to open peoples eye’s to the problems in society is much needed. I thank you.

  • Christine said:

    I scanned several articles but the one on Carolyn Chambers caught my interest because of her focus on assisting college students in establishing careers in communications. My full-time work is with the University of Hawaii at Manoa where I advise and teach leadership courses. This article provided an interesting resume of Chambers, which was informative. Another version of this article might be thematic, highlighting her advice to young people starting out (and perhaps older people starting out in new directions). People are always curious about leadership — what is it, do I have the necessary qualities, can leadership be learned and if so, how can I develop my skills. Thank you. Chris

  • David Kent said:

    It is amazing to me to read about such a success story from someone that is so local to the Oregon area. It truly puts things into perspective and is genuinely inspiring. I particularly loved the ending of the article that read, ” Don’t be the nine to fiver that runs out the door.” That spoke to me deeply in that it is something I, as an individual, want to pursue greater prospects than the average structure for the American worker.

    I hope that a story such as hers could be not only inspiring to me as an individual but to many others who read it. A story like this tells me if that others in our community can pursue their dreams and make them there reality, then there is no reason I can’t do the same. I really appreciated reading this article. Thank you for writing it.

  • Cathie Tyler said:

    What an interesting woman.Nice to see.

  • dumus said:

    Belief in your self and hard work payoff.

    It must be said that hard work and perseverance to achieve your goal will payoff. Youth today have vision and ability but no committed to work. Somehow this needs to be instilled youth of today threw their parents.

  • Leanne T. Smith said:

    The success story of Carolyn Chambers is clearly an example of a woman defying the glass ceiling theory. Her advice on networking during college is right on point. It is advantageous for students to network within their peers and also within their Major department with professors. There is so much knowledge and life long connections that can be made during those years of study. I am very impressed by Carolyn Chambers story and hope more young woman can look to her as a role model during their pursuit of becoming a winner!

  • bakvee said:

    I just want to say i completely respect and admire your zeal to get where you want to be in life and also be able to reach and share what you have learnt through the years and while climbing up to be where you are. I do have one question however;

    How would one have to go about climbing up the entrepreneurship ladder or even becoming a business owner if;

    1) there was / is not the slightest chance of getting any kind of booster (family,banks) but the desire and motivation to work through troubles is strong only the helping hand is not there?

    2) what would you say is the strongest and most applicable quality that one should have to beat or defy the odds from your experience?

  • karthik said:

    This article expemplifies hardwork and perseverance. It should be used as a guide to all young students to see how success comes with a vision and ability to make it happen only by being committed to it.

  • M. Nelson said:

    A nice success story

    It’s nice to hear about a long standing success story like this based on hard work. All too often these days we hear about people being “grandfathered” into companies who didn’t earn that place or position. I have a great deal of admiration and respect for all business people who make the decision to create something and don’t stop until they get where they want to be.

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