Cable Operators

Jeffrey Hirsch: Competitive Golfer

5/21/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

When Jeff Hirsch got to Rochester, N.Y.,
to take over as president of Time Warner Cable’s local division,
he held a meeting with his top staff . Then he left
the room and had someone else ask everyone to list “the
questions they wanted to ask me but were afraid to.”

Several questions were written on the board when Hirsch
returned to the room; two still stand out. The first was, “We
have 51 years of combined cable experience, and you have
three, so what can you teach us?”

Hirsch responded that leadership was not always about experience,
and he believed he could provide “new ideas and
a fresh perspective that would be good for the culture here.”

The second question probed Hirsch’s persona in a different
way: “Do you play ‘real’ golf or ‘company’ golf?” Hirsch
said he plays “real” golf, and
explained that in his previous
role, as general manager
of the South Carolina system,
“I never let my boss win.”

COMPETITIVE SPIRIT

Since last July, Hirsch has
been in a much higher profile position as Time Warner
Cable’s executive vice president
and chief marketing officer, residential services. But it’s possible to look back seven
years ago to Rochester and already see the traits that earned
him the 2012 Vanguard Award for Young Leadership.

“I think asking a lot of questions is healthy,” Hirsch said,
adding that if the answer is, “We’ve always done it that way,”
then it’s time to re-think and question the status quo. That’s
one reason Hirsch is so open to hiring people from outside
the cable industry: “If they are great at marketing, we can
teach them about cable, and they will probably be able to
teach us about our business, too.”

Hirsch also believes a competitive spirit is not only
good, but necessary in this field at this juncture. “My job
now is not to change the corporate culture here but to rally
everyone to compete hard and with consistency,” he said.
As a former Division I college lacrosse player whose “body
is falling apart,” Hirsch said he likes having a new arena
where he can channel his competitive fire.

Time Warner Cable president and chief operating officer
Robert Marcus first encountered Hirsch back in his Rochester
days (right after Marcus joined the company in 2005). “I
was immediately impressed with his presence, with the way
he ran the operation,” Marcus said. “Whether it was the guys
putting boxes onto palettes or the marketing executives, he
knew them all by first name.”

Still, Marcus noted, success out in the field doesn’t always
translate when someone gets promoted upstairs. “But Jeff is
equally comfortable with the head of dispatch and the people
in the boardroom — he’s versatile and well-rounded,” Marcus
said. “He’s a great team builder. And he’s very practical;
he boils complex issues down to simple, actionable choices.”

Hirsch said he loved being in the field but is thrilled to be
part of the strategic team these days, even if it now means he’s
the guy wearing a tie every day. (“I only have five,” he said. “I
hope they don’t notice.”)

Finding “actionable choices” with definitive results has
always been what drives Hirsch. He first got a taste for it in
college, at the University of Pennsylvania, when he did a
summer internship at Grey Advertising in media planning
and followed that with another one at Foote, Cone & Belding.
“I loved working on something during the day and then
being able to see the results,” he said. “I liked that report card
aspect.”

While getting his MBA at Dartmouth, Hirsch tried a summer
job in consulting and “hated it” — the idea of creating a
plan that may be ignored or poorly executed by others was
just not for him. “Everyone else from Dartmouth went to
Goldman Sachs or McKinsey
[& Co.],” he said. “I just didn’t
have the passion for it.”

After gaining more experience
in marketing (at NYNEX
Corp.) and advertising (at
McCann-Erickson), Hirsch
joined Time Warner Cable
in New York in 1999. He advanced
quickly by moving
around the country — after
South Carolina and Rochester
he was president of the Los Angeles Metro Division and
then regional president of residential services for the New
York City region. Having grown up in Providence, R.I., he was
happy to return to the Northeast (“My mother cried when she
found out I was coming back,” he said.) but especially excited
about the challenge of tackling New York. “That had always
been a goal of mine,” he said.

Changing jobs every few years was helpful, Hirsch said,
as he had to handle a variety of challenges. For example, “in
Rochester, I had passionate front-line employees, but when I
got there the leadership team was disengaged,” he explained.
“But in South Carolina it was the reverse.”

EYE FOR TALENT

While he never changed his “core values,” Hirsch discovered
he could be a more effective manager across different situations
by being flexible and open-minded. “It’s easier for me
to adapt my style to each new situation than to expect everyone
there to adapt to me.”

He also believes he has an eye for talent and an ability
to nurture it; he said he’s particularly proud that 11 people
he has hired are now Time Warner Cable VPs around
the country. “I feel partly responsible for getting them to
where they are,” he said.

Additionally, he learned every aspect of the business,
which he said was necessary to understanding how to motivate
both the front-line employees and the customers.

“There is a value in my variety of experiences within the
company,” he said. “It helps knowing the DNA of the company
brand.”

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