Magazine Mar/Apr 2013 Energy, Persistence, Patience

01 April 2013, 17:47
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Energy, Persistence, Patience

Lee Abrahamian is a bubbling bundle of energy as she sprints into her office at the world famous Metropolitan Opera in New York where I am waiting for her, greeting me with an enthusiastic “Parev. Is that a good start”? And from there, it’s nothing but high spirits as she answers the phone, which rings every few minutes, or runs off to a ten-minute meeting every half hour with Metropolitan Opera General Manager Peter Gelb. All this activity causes a one and a half hour interview to last three and a half hours. She smiles easily and speaks openly and passionately.

Director of Communications at the world famous Metropolitan Opera in New York, her list of responsibilities is endless, including playing a key role in season press announcements, conducting interviews, producing videos of all upcoming productions, representing the Met at openings and special events, overseeing public relations, advising senior staff, cultivating and maintaining high level media relationships and overseeing photography efforts from production shoots to public event coverage. And these are just a few on a long list.
A previous Emmy Award-winning journalist in the early 1980s, Lee was the Executive Producer for MSNBC, producing four hours of live programming daily. Before that, she was the News Director at WCBS-TV, running the day-to-day news operation. She also served as Executive Producer for several specials, including the Pope’s New York visit, the political conventions and the Tony Awards. A graduate of New York University in English and Journalism, she was a music major at the University of Connecticut and has played the organ in the Armenian Church of the Holy Resurrection in New Britain, Connecticut where she grew up.

You have had and are continuing to have a storied career. Winner of the prestigious Emmy Award and high-level positions at WCBS-TV and MSNBC, you literally worked yourself up the ladder through hard work, talent and determination. What was the Emmy for, and what was the catalyst that took you into this field of communications and journalism?
I received the Emmy Award in the early 1980s for breaking news back at WCBS when there was a major snowstorm in New York. We had every crew out in the horrible conditions, and they were live on television.
Even though I majored in English and Journalism at NYU, I had no clue as to my future work. I wanted to stay in New York, so after graduation, I took a job as a secretary at the old Columbia Records. Because it was an election year, 1979, they were looking for volunteers in one of the primaries, and I walked into the WCBS newsroom. It was like being home. There were people my age running around, and the energy was so intense. It was the old days with no cell phones. A girl with a walkie-talkie was barking orders into it. She was my age, and I thought that’s what I want to do. I want to be a boss, have that microphone, and be part of that whole energy. (A knock at the door calls Lee to a short meeting, and after about ten minutes, we resume.) I told my boss that I wanted to be in news, so he arranged an interview with the news director who hired me as a secretary.
After six months, I was chomping at the bit and would do everything I could after hours – sit with writers, reporters. I became a researcher, and literally for the next ten or fifteen years, I kept going up to every position – producer, executive producer, until I became number two, and even for a while number one. That literally was a twenty-year career. You go back and forth, because I was also in the consumer unit. There are different ways you go up. I’m a good manager because I’m fair. I did every single job they asked me to do – worked the overnights, the weekends, from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. I was the kind of person who never asked for anything. I just did my work and got my promotions.

In this meteoric rise, you didn’t curry favors with the boss, or employ other maneuvers sometimes used by others. You literally worked your way up. What was the special passion that you felt about this kind of a killer schedule?
Yes, and working my way up fair and square gained me the respect of everybody that I worked with. Passion, that’s a good question. My aunt once saw me at work and said she hyperventilated just watching me. It’s the adrenaline. It’s just a part of my DNA. If I have nothing to do, it’s a really bad day for me. What I loved about my work was that we were all in it together. It was a good group. We were young, and weren’t afraid of challenges. We made mistakes, but the energy was there. It’s a competitive environment, so you’re against other television stations. We would look at the ratings every day. We would strive to be number one, even though we never achieved this except for a few days when I was there. To be underdog at some point is a good place to be because you get excited about what you do, and you strive to be number one.
What I miss about news now at the Met is not knowing the inside stuff. I have that in me. I want to know when someone is coming out with new polls. I like the immediacy of news, and the fact that when you go home, it’s over.

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