Former Renaissance Cable and CableVision Industries Inc. vice chairman Rod Cornelius is close to becoming the next CEO of Adelphia Communications Corp., sources said last week.
Although nothing has been finalized yet, several sources familiar with the situation said Adelphia is in negotiations with Cornelius and an announcement could come within the next few weeks. The troubled Coudersport, Pa.-based MSO named the industry veteran to its board of directors in August.
"While Adelphia has said all along that it is in the process of identifying a permanent CEO, it will not comment on rumor or speculation until that process is completed," said Adelphia spokesman Eric Andrus.
Cornelius, reached at his home in Lake George, N.Y., declined to comment.
Adelphia has been looking for a permanent CEO since May, when founder John Rigas stepped down as chairman and was replaced by board member Erland Kailbourne. In addition to serving as chairman, Kailbourne is also Adelphia's acting CEO.
Early candidates rumored for the CEO spot included cable legends Amos Hostetter and Leo J. Hindery Jr., as well as AT&T Broadband president William Schleyer.
But most observers never believed that such high-profile cable executives would have risked taking on such a daunting task. Any new company CEO would not only be saddled with trying to restore the company's battered reputation, but also with reconciling its books and selling off assets to pare down debt.
"Not a lot of people would want that job," said one industry executive who asked not to be named.
But according to those who know him, Cornelius is more than up for the task.
Former CableVision Industries chairman Alan Gerry, while not claiming to have any knowledge of Adelphia's plans, said nevertheless that Cornelius would be a good choice for Adelphia CEO.
"He is probably one of the brightest people out there," Gerry said of Cornelius, who worked for Gerry for 15 years. "He wasn't high-profile, but he was my right-hand man for much of that 15 years."
Cornelius also had a knack for solving complex issues, said Gerry, who added that during his tenure, CVI "never had a loan called, never lost a franchise and never lost a request for a rate increase."
Insight Communications Co. CEO Michael Willner echoed Gerry's comments.
"If it's true, it would be a terrific choice," Willner said. "We all welcome him back into the industry."
According to some industry analysts, hiring Cornelius shows that Adelphia management is serious about keeping the company intact, rather than liquidating it. But determining which assets to keep and which to unload will be a main priority for any new CEO, they said.
Adelphia had planned to sell operations with a total of 2.7 million subscribers in Los Angeles, Northern Virginia and Central Florida in April, before details of the accounting scandals were released. The company scrapped those divestiture plans when it became apparent that it would have to file for bankruptcy protection.
Adelphia filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection June 25, after a series of self-dealing transactions by the Rigas family were revealed.
John Rigas — along with his sons, chief financial officer Timothy Rigas and executive vice president of operations Michael Rigas — were arrested by U.S. Postal Inspectors on July 24 on charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud and bank fraud.
While Cornelius has a strong cable operating history, he is probably better known for selling cable systems.
As vice chairman of Renaissance, he built the company largely through acquisition — it had acquired 125,000 subscribers in late 1997 for $310 million. But only a few months after that deal closed, Renaissance was sold to Charter Communications Inc. for $459 million.
As vice chairman of CVI, Cornelius rose through the ranks after starting as a general manager in 1982. he grew the company from under 100,000 customers to 1.4 million subscribers.
In 1996, Cornelius managed the sale of CVI to Time Warner Inc. for $2.9 billion.
Gerry said that Cornelius' background as a certified public accountant and his ability to do deals would be a major plus for Adelphia. He added that Cornelius, former CFO Rocco Commisso (now chairman of Mediacom Communications Corp.) and COO Fred Schulte were CVI's point men with the financial community.
Gerry pointed to CVI's largest acquisition, Wometco Cable TV Inc. for $725 million in 1988.
"Rod was very, very instrumental in that," Gerry said. "He worked with the bondholders, the banks, disgruntled shareholders. He has very, very strong negotiating skills, analytical skills, financial skills and operating skills."