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Schleyer in Adelphia Scrum

3/09/2003 7:00 PM Eastern

Last Tuesday, Bill Schleyer and Ron Cooper got the nod from a bankruptcy judge — a move that puts them in charge of leading Adelphia Communications Corp. through some very rocky times, with some very factious players to placate.

Schleyer — known as a highly competitive rugby player — now finds himself in the thick of a particularly messy scrum that was not of his making.

Two days after he won his court battle, I caught up with Schleyer, who has certainly brought new meaning to the usual job description we see for the top banana of a dominant cable MSO.

Though he and Ron Cooper, Adelphia's new president and chief operating officer, are busy assembling a new management team and drawing up a business plan, Schleyer's job is far more complex. Not only must he build value and restore employee morale — he must also deal with a slew of other constituents at the same time.

Perhaps the most thorny task is to appease Leonard Tow, one of the company's largest shareholders, who had sold his Century Communications Corp. to Adelphia. Subsequently, Tow fought the appointments of Schleyer and Cooper.

Assuaging Tow — who had said that Schleyer and Cooper were not up to the job at hand — will not be easy. After all, he lost a ton of money and his battle in the courtroom. He wanted the job of chairman and CEO, which Schleyer ultimately got.

Nor will Tow go away. He chairs the equity committee that was formed when Adelphia went into bankruptcy, an unusual arrangement. There's also a separate creditors' committee that Schleyer will have to deal with as he seeks approval for his new business plans, which will likely involve asking for money to fund plant upgrades.

Getting that approval from Tow might be difficult. Tow was notorious for not investing in plant improvement when he owned the Century systems.

Schleyer is well aware of the challenges that await him.

"I have a lot of respect for Leonard and I need to build value" — a development that's also certainly in Tow's best interest, Schleyer added.

Meanwhile, Schleyer is forming his team and will announce some of those key hires in the next two weeks. He's also working with one of the company's existing six board members — there are only six — to bring in some independent directors who, over time, could make the transition to become permanent board members.

He's also dealing with the intricacies of running a company in bankruptcy. That means a lot of time spent in the courtroom, and telling the company's story to Wall Street and the financial community.

Schleyer must also win back the trust of Adelphia employees. That means communicating a vision, values and strategy for all to follow.

"The employees were shocked, disappointed and angered. But they are rallying around the company and have done a terrific job," he said.

Frankly, Schleyer's new job sounds thankless. When asked if he was a "masochist," Schleyer responded with only a laugh.

Clearly, Schleyer is under the microscope in this new era of corporate governance. It behooves the industry to watch him closely — and to perhaps learn from him as he advances this wild ball down the field.

After all, it's up to him to right the wrongs of the past, either perceived or real. And it's up to all cable companies in reporting their own results to remember the new rules of transparency.

No one wants to be tarred with the Adelphia brush — something that has already happened and must not ever happen again.

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