Mixing Business With Pleasure

Perfectly positioned to help usher in the next wave of digital entertainment, Cassandra Cummings, business development manager of the Media/Entertainment Technology Convergence Group at Microsoft, turned a childhood affinity for technology into a career trajectory.

“I liked gadgets early on,” says Cummings, who grew up in a family rife with advanced professional degrees. Her mother, Lillian, a chemistry professor at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, “would read chemistry manuals for pleasure,” says Cummings, who carried on the family tradition by earning her undergraduate degree in computer science from Lamar University and an M.B.A. in marketing and entrepreneurship at the Wharton School of Business.

After honing her unique skill set of technical prowess and business acumen with DuPont and ITT Corp. (where she once aspired to run Madison Square Garden), Cummings joined Microsoft’s digital media division in 1999. “My role was to strike content deals with major broadcast companies to consider the Windows Media platform for the online delivery of their content.” Known for her skills as a strategic thinker, Cummings was the worldwide lead business manager of content services for Windows Media Player 10.

Microsoft’s Media/Entertainment and Technology Convergence Group is responsible for making sure that effective business relationships are in place to meet the increased consumer demand for entertainment, news, and sports programming using Windows-powered devices. “We try to help content providers better understand and navigate through the transitions from analog to the digital world,” Cummings says. Depending on the business model, audio or video content can be viewed, purchased, or downloaded via the Internet. Content can be transferred to a portable media device or networked to various devices throughout the home.

“She is extremely bright and very well grounded,” says music industry icon Clarence Avant, who met Cummings at an industry event and has subsequently become an important role model for her. “I totally respect this young woman and [I’m] always intrigued by someone like this, especially an African American in the technology world.”

Growing up in Dallas as a self-proclaimed “win, lose, or draw” Cowboys fan, Cummings has been able to merge her love of sports and entertainment with her career. She has orchestrated major deals with National Geographic Television and Film, NPR, MSNBC, Comedy Central, Court TV, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, CBS, Billboard, and more.

Although most of the content she works with is media and entertainment-based, Cummings says that mobile professionals and small business entrepreneurs in the African American community can gain exposure to new technologies through these applications. She also advises “keeping the periscope up” with regular visits to retail stores that carry wireless-enabled devices, pocket PCs, and other digital media that can help facilitate business and personal goals.

Cummings predicts these new technologies will be embraced as broadband penetration continues and hardware prices come down. Whether through the living room television, home office PC, workplace laptop, or mobile device, “the goal is for consumers to have access to content the way they want it.”