SUSAN JARAMILLO SHARES HER SECRET TO SUCCESS
For Susan Jaramillo, 77, co-owner of Rainbow Broadcasting Co.
Inc. and station manager of WRBW-TV in Orlando, Florida, theres
only one way to climb a corporate ladder: build your own ladder
and find a comfortable perch at the top.
My dad always said when I was younger, Youre smart, but youre
a woman, and in this world youre handicapped in terms of being
successful. You should either have your own profession, like a
lawyer or doctor, or have your own business. Dont go to work
for anybody else, Jaramillo says. I guess this was in my head,
so except for taking a job to learn the business so I could figure
out how to do something on my own with it, I never really considered
doing anything else.
After graduating from high school at 16 in the freewheeling 60s,
Jaramillo struck out on her own and headed for Europe. She settled
into life in Madrid, where she quickly realized that there was
money to be made by filling a niche for visiting foreigners. Pensiones
were the only available housing for travelers on a budget, but
most disliked the strict house rules imposed by the older women
who ran them. Spotting opportunity, Jaramillo rented a 12-bedroom
house and opened a westernized pension.
While in Spain, she also made her first foray into the entertainment
business as an extra in films. But with directors hungry for the
blond, blue-eyed American look, the dark-haired Jaramillo didnt
find herself overwhelmed with work. Instead she found herself
with a pension full of American friends who often ran out of money
and became freeloading guests. She again seized opportunity, dropping
out of the film extra business only to put her friends in itand
earning half their pay as commission. Her rooms were now full
of paying guests, and a businesswoman was born.
Although she had always assumed she would work for herself, Jaramillo
had not considered business as a career. I wanted to be an anthropologist.
Or a writer. I was much more into the humanities. Business people
were all those guys with wing tips and briefcases. But with the
success of her pension and her casting agency, I started to realize
I did have a little knack for
business, she says.
Returning to the States at 18 wealthier than when she had left,
Jaramillo spent the next several years developing her little
knack through other business ventures. One of the first was a
painting and decorating business she opened in Chicago in the
early 1970s, when she and her employees became the first female
members of a building and contracting union. I figure my contribution
to the womens liberation movement was not to talk about it but
to do it, Jaramillo says. After an eventful few yearsher car
was once bombed in response to women joining the unionshe then
bought and managed a restaurant and discotheque in Puerto Rico.
After that, I decided that instead of getting into these things
willy-nilly, Id go back to school and focus, she says.
The GSB was her school of choice, though with no undergraduate
degree, she had to work hard to gain admission. Initially rejected
by the campus program, she began taking five classes at a time
in the part-time program until the administration, realizing the
absurdity of the situation, admitted her as a full-time student.
Degree in hand, Jaramillo set her sights on owning a television
station or production company, and she began looking for a job
that would teach her the business of TV. She finally found it
as a financial consultant with CBS, working at WBBM-TV in Chicago.At
the time they were just a terrific company, she says. When I
looked at the backgrounds of people at the big studios, TV companies,
even movie companies, at some point almost everybody had worked
at WBBM-TV. And I thought well, you know, this might be a pretty
Working with all departments, from news to promotions, it was
Jaramillos job to analyze projects before making recommendations
on budget and expenditures. The position, she says, was just
perfect. There was no faster way I was going to learn operations.I
couldnt pass up the job, even though they paid me half of what
I had been offered [elsewhere]. But I didnt care, I had a lot
of confidence that Id make a lot of money later.
She later worked at the 20th Century Fox television division in
Los Angeles to learn about independent stations and programming.
After doing her homework there as marketing director, she took
advice she had given CBS earlier: acquire a television station
in Miami. Deciding to start a television station from scratch,
Jaramillo applied for the license for an available UHF frequency.
It had been around for 10 years, and for some reason, nobody
wanted it. CBS didnt take my recommendation. But I did. I looked
at Miami and saw that it was a terrific market.
Miami had three affiliates and one VHF independent with signal
problemsit could only reach half the market. Usually a UHF didnt
want to be up against a VHF independent because theyd clobber
them, she says. But Jaramillo had three things on her side: a
better signal, low program prices, and, perhaps most advantageous
of all, a low profile.
At that time, I was a young woman. I figured Id sneak in there,
and they wouldnt pay any attention. Thats what I did, and we
managed to get a lot good programming before they figured out
that we did have a good signal, she says.
Jaramillo formed Channel 39 Broadcasting Corporation and launched
WDZL in 1982. After three successful years, she sold the station
and retired at age 39. I decided Id rather retire when I could
enjoy it and go back to work when I was older, she says. Her
mother had died a year earlier, and for the next eight years she
spent time with her father, traveled, and learned to be a pretty
good tennis player, Jaramillo says. I had a pretty nice run
In 1993, she went back to work, this time as co-owner, with her
sister and a third partner, of WRBW, the UPN affiliate in Orlando.
The trio has since signed a contract to sell the station to United
Television, and Jaramillo is mulling her options while waiting
for the deal to close.
Although she has yet to determine her next step in business, the
future of her personal life looks certain: With plans to adopt
one or two children, parenthood is on the horizon. A second retirement,
however, is not.
I already retired once. I dont just want to stop and go play
golf every day, she said. I havent figured out what life is
about, but I dont think its about playing golf or fishing every
day of my life.
Whatever business venture is next, Jaramillo already knows shell
enjoy it. Its all a matter of attitude, she says.
When I was a little girl, I figured out that if youre going
to have to work, you might as well learn to like it, Jaramillo
says. I never disliked work. I had a good attitude towards it.
I try to think of everything as an adventure. I guess its a habit