My American Story: Kay Koplovitz

My American Story
by Kay Koplovitz
Kay Koplovitz as a child.

Kay Koplovitz as a child.

Growing up in the late 1940s and 50s, in the Milwaukee suburb of Cudahy and then the neighboring town of South Milwaukee. I was the middle of three children of Bill and Jane Smith. My older sister Sharon and younger brother Mark and I had a remarkably average middle-class life, spending most of it at 510 Elm Street, South Milwaukee.  

So, there you have it. Kay Smith, 510 Elm Street, USA. My dad worked his entire adult life at Ladish Company in sales, and my mom was in charge of the housekeeping and child-raising, except for when she worked for the telephone company as a switchboard operator.

I really don’t know that much about my grandparents, as all except my dad’s mom were deceased long before I was born. Grandma lived upstairs in our flat in Cudahy. She was tiny and tough, spoke more than a handful of languages, and as a young child, I knew to steer clear of her temper. She came to the US from Regina Saskatchewan, Canada to where she had emigrated from Austria. One of the things I loved about her is that she made pierogis, which I loved and certainly added to my significant girth as a child. Her first husband Alexander who I understood was a Scot, moved to St Petersburg, Russia, as a young man.  He wound up fighting in the Boar war and eventually moved to the plains of Saskatchewan to become a teamster transporting wheat to market. My dad was born there but moved to Cudahy when his family emigrated there in 1924. 

My mom was the 13th of thirteen children but never met her dad as he died at the age of 44 three months before she was born. Theoful Szukalski was an entrepreneur, owned a road construction company, a potato chip factory, a hardware supply company among others. He clearly was of Polish descendant. He met and married his wife, Anna Neuman, the daughter of a well-healed farming family in rural central Wisconsin. I would have loved to meet them, but I arrived too late, as they were long gone.

Education was a high priority in my family, as neither of my parents went to college. My mom had an 8th-grade education, and my dad high school, but the depression set in and working was paramount. I was grateful that my parents taught us to be independent thinkers, make decisions for ourselves, and live with the consequences at an early age. 

The rest of my life is written in many places, but from that point forward, I was always a girl on a mission.

Clearly, their faith in me was demonstrated when in my second year of kindergarten when I was 5, we moved to the neighboring town of South Milwaukee just before Christmas.  I told my dad that I couldn’t move because I wanted to graduate with my kindergarten class. He forcefully declared, “You’re moving!” Whereupon I said to him,” Then you have to raise my allowance by 50 cents”. “What,” he said, “why?” I said, “Because I need it to take the bus to Cudahy to graduate with my kindergarten class.” 

After a rather stern look at me, he said, “Ok, but don’t ever ask your mom for a ride. You will walk in rain and snow through the freezing winter to the bus stop”.” Yup,” I said, proud to win my very first successful negotiation. It really said a lot about his trust in me to do it. The rest of my life is written in many places, but from that point forward, I was always a girl on a mission. What mission, I didn’t know, but I was ready.

USA Network in 1990; Koplovitz remains an influential voice in television and media, regularly providing insight on major news networks.

That mission took me into satellites, launching the first national satellite to cable network, Madison Square Garden, which became USA Network, The Syfy Channel and USA International. Moving on, I co-founded Springboard Enterprises, a global accelerator for women entrepreneurs transforming industries who have raised more than $9.5Billion, spawned over 190 liquidity sales and 19 IPOs. The journey continues.

About the Author

Kay Koplovitz was the first woman to head a television network as the Founder of USA Network, and served as its Chief Executive officer from 1977 to 1998. Koplovitz was also appointed to chair the National Women’s Business Council by President Clinton. Since 2000, she has served as chairman of Springboard Enterprises, a non profit fostering investment in women-led high growth companies. She is also the author of Bold Women, Big Ideas: Learning to Play the High-Risk Entrepreneurial Game.

She currently serves as a member of The Common Good Honorary Advisory Board. You can read more about Kay here.