Adelphia Taps AT & T Exec For Key Operations Role

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To bolster its management team after a corporate growth spurt last year, Adelphia Communications Corp. last week hired AT & T Broadband executive Ann Montgomery as senior vice president of operations, a new position for the family-controlled company.

Adelphia called the appointment a key part of a management restructuring that began late last year, when the MSO more than doubled its subscriber base to 5.5 million through acquisitions.

Montgomery, the AT & T Corp. cable unit's vice president of fulfillment services and operations, will shift to Adelphia's headquarters in Coudersport, Pa., to start her new job in August.

AT & T Broadband spokes-man Steve Lang said Tom Beaudreau, who had been a vice president within Montgomery's organization, will assume her role as acting senior vice president of customer care and operations in the interim.

"We don't like to lose good people," Lang said. "Tom's going to do a great job filling in. We expect a fairly seamless transition."

Montgomery was said to be vacationing in Florida and was unavailable for comment.

Adelphia began the restructuring in October, splitting its territories into seven separate regions, each with its own vice president. Those regional vice presidents will report to Montgomery, who will then report directly to executive vice president of operations Michael Rigas.

Adelphia had been looking to hire a new operations executive since the National Show in New Orleans in May, according to several sources. The MSO had even narrowed its list of candidates down to two former cable executives during the show, but sources said Adelphia suddenly broke off talks shortly after the show ended.

Last month, a senior Adelphia executive, asked by Multichannel News if the company planned to hire Montgomery as operations chief, said Adelphia was not looking to create that position. The hiring was announced in a news release July 3.

Rigas said Adelphia was in fact interviewing candidates at the National Show, adding that this was when he first met Montgomery.

"She did very well in the interviews," Rigas said. "We really thought she was a person who would fit very well into our culture. She seems to be a people person, someone who takes a collaborative approach and can build a consensus within an organization."

Montgomery's hiring is in part aimed at taking some pressure off Rigas-one of three brothers in executive roles at the company their father, John, cofounded with his brother-while the MSO prepares for an aggressive expansion into new services.

While Michael Rigas will continue to play a major role in operations, he said that as the company grew, it was difficult to manage on his own.

"I have a number of corporate department heads reporting to me now," he added. "Between that and all of the people in the field, it was a bit much to try to stay on top of everything."

Adelphia recently named retired Air Force Lt. Col. Herbert Shirey as its new vice president of data operations. Rigas said Adelphia is also seeking vice presidents of residential telephony and marketing. Those appointments could be made in about 60 days.

In Montgomery, Adelphia gets a seasoned executive with nearly 15 years of experience in the cable business, as well as a track record in improving customer service.

Montgomery started with American Express Cable Services Group and joined Tele-Communications Inc. in 1991 as office manager. She rose through the ranks, becoming director of billing systems and customer-service director.

In 1997, she was named vice president of customer operations for AT & T Broadband, creating and implementing the company's customer-care strategy and call-center plans.

Montgomery played a large role in improving TCI's poor customer relations, and in 1999, she was the recipient of Women in Cable & Telecommunications' annual "Woman to Watch Accolade"-an award presented to middle to senior management for "demonstrated leadership potential" and "dedication to the cable and telecommunications industry."

In her new position, Montgomery becomes one of the highest-ranking women in the cable industry on the operations side, joining Cox Communications Inc. executive vice president of operations Margaret Bellville, AT & T Broadband operations West chief Teresa Elder and Insight Communications Co. Inc. chief operating officer Kim Kelly.

"She is in a group in very rare air on the operations side," WICT spokesman Jim Flanigan said.

Montgomery's customer-service reputation should come in handy as Adelphia moves to integrate recent acquisitions into the corporate fold.

Last year, the MSO's major buyouts included Century Communications Corp., FrontierVision Partners L.P. and Harron Communications Corp., for a total of $8.5 billion. Adelphia grew to become the fifth-largest domestic cable operator.

Other deals included ones for Cablevision Systems Corp.'s Cleveland systems, Prestige Cable TV Inc. operations in Virginia and GS Communications Inc. in Virginia.

Along the way, Adelphia acquired some systems with myriad problems-especially the former Century properties in Los Angeles, analysts said. Those systems have been a trouble spot for Century for years, and they are in dire need of upgrades.

"Any kind of good experience in marketing has got to help them in their integration," Credit Lyonnais Securities USA Inc. analyst Richard Read said. "There's a lot they've got to do. Clearly, some of the Century systems have customer-relations issues. This is a natural evolution for Adelphia."

Rigas conceded that the Century properties had some problems, but he said Adelphia has been making progress. He added that while California will receive a good amount of Montgomery's attention, it won't be her sole focus.

"Customer service is going to be a priority," Rigas said. "We've made great strides [in Los Angeles], and we're on the road to improvement. L.A. is a key market, but we have other challenges, as well."

"The company's sliced up into [seven] different regions," SG Cowen Securities Corp. analyst Gary Farber said. "Even though they are larger, mapwise, it's more of an operating challenge. They have indicated in the past that they want to improve their visibility. I look at this as part of that. Increasing their operating presence at a corporate level should translate into better visibility on the investor side and the public-persona side."

Adelphia has not yet finalized an upgrade budget for the year, Rigas added, but he said some of the recently acquired properties are between 300-megahertz and 450-MHz capacity.

"Some of their systems were upgraded or in the process of being upgraded, but for the most part, they are going to require some work to get them to 860 [MHz]," he added.

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