University of Pittsburgh

Disaster Recovery Part of Alumna's Skill Set

On the night of Dec. 31, 1999, as the clock ticked toward a new millennium, the world watched with a mixture of dread and excitement. Was Y2K, as it was called, going to unleash crippling chaos or be remembered as an overblown hoax?

That evening, Claudia Stevens Maddox (MBA '71) was hunkered down in an Indiana state communications bunker. Emergency preparedness was part of her job duties with Ameritech, a telecommunications company which later became AT&T. "We were hooked up to the Midwest on a special line the telephone company ran to me and I logged into one for the Chicago region," Maddox recalls. "It was exciting, a very interesting night that I'll never forget."

Today, like then, landlines are trusted in emergency situations, which unlike cell phones, are run from a central location and are less vulnerable to grid shutdowns. "For a telephone company there are three networks," explains Maddox. "There is the telephone company network that gives you phone service, the computer systems that support internal business departments, and the network connecting all the central offices."

Maddox, who retired in 2010 after more than 25 years in the telecommunications industry, specialized in everything from supervising network control centers and building network diagrams to developing disaster recovery plans. She visited the Katz Graduate School of Business in February for a meeting of the Pitt Black MBA Network (PBAN). The volunteer organization, formed in 2010, is growing toward 100 members and works in partnership with the Katz School to help recruit students and faculty from underserved populations and to raise scholarship dollars to support black MBA students.

During her career, Maddox survived a number of company acquisitions and reorganizations. She worked for Indiana Bell, which became Ameritech, and then Ameritech was purchased by SBC Communications, and then SBC Communications bought AT&T and adopted the AT&T name. She attributes her staying power to her "constant reinvention" and knack for "making contacts with people all over the company" so she could "find out in advance where a company is putting its money and where the revenue comes in since that's the spot where you want to be."

It also didn't hurt that Maddox possessed a strong technical background. She earned a degree in mathematics from Morgan State College before enrolling in the Katz One-Year MBA program.  At the time, she was at the vanguard of women obtaining a master's degree in business. In fact, Maddox believes that she and her roommate were the first two African American women to graduate from Katz.

"In those days, people didn't know what to do with women," Maddox recalls. "Pitt was very welcoming to me as an African American. But less welcoming as a woman. It had nothing to do with color and everything to do with the old boy's network starting to fall."

Maddox says her Katz class had seven female students, then the largest in the school's history. Together, they produced a voluminous paper, complete with appendixes, titled "Just Sit There and Look Pretty and You'll Get an 'A,'" which addressed the stereotypes in academia toward women at the time.  Despite the provocative title, Maddox says that the dean at the time, H.J. Zoffer, was "always, always committed to diversity" and supportive of female MBAs.

After graduating from Katz, Maddox moved to Maryland and worked for IBM Corp. for nearly 10 years. Later, she moved to Indiana to join Cummins Engine as a systems analyst. But the company was in turmoil, so Maddox left after a year. Even so, the experience left a mark, as Maddox recalls the sage advice of a Cummins emeritus board member in his address to the company's new employees. "He told us that, 'We hire the best people. We will take every hour you give us. That's why it's important for you to learn to balance work, personal, and spiritual life.'"

While at AT&T, Maddox spent lots of time with younger employees in a mentoring role. She served as National Parliamentarian for Community Network African American Telecommunications Professionals of AT&T. She is a charter member of the Indianapolis chapter of the National Black MBA Association. Today Maddox is president of the Indianapolis chapter of The Links Inc.

"You need to be connected in the community and connected in the organization that you belong to," Maddox says.