Always Ahead of the Curve


Tom Wheeler, Managing Director, Core Capital Partners

As an entrepreneur and policymaker in the cable and cellular spaces, Tom Wheeler has been smack-dab in the middle of some of the most explosive growth in the telecommunications industries.

From 1976 to 1984, Wheeler worked at the National Cable Television Association, assuming the trade group’s presidency in 1979.

He left to serve as president of NABU Network, a home-computer system that was linked to a precursor of cable-delivered Internet service. NABU was ahead of its time, though, and ceased operations a year or so later.

Undeterred, Wheeler went on to create or run several other technology startups in the cable, telecommunications and cellular arenas. Among them: SmartBrief, an amalgamator of news for 25 industries. The Cable & Telecommunciations Association for Marketing was the firm’s second affiliate, according to Char Beales, CTAM’s CEO.

“Tom has the gift of making friends quickly, and the even greater gift of keeping them,” said James Mooney, who worked with Wheeler at the NCTA and is now a partner with JLM Partners, a public relations firm in Seattle. “In Washington that means a lot.”

In 1992, the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association asked Wheeler to serve as its CEO; he held that post until 2004.

He joined Core Capital Partners in 2005 as a managing director overseeing the partnership’s media and wireless investments.

“I’ve been lucky enough to be at the inflection point of two of the greatest communications innovations since World War II,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler’s tenure at the NCTA coincided with some heady times for cable. Rapid advances in programming and technology, coupled with the growth and popularity of the product among consumers, created an environment both exciting and challenging.

Both the industry and the NCTA felt growing pains. Programming networks were launching left and right, and cable franchises were being awarded nearly every day. At the same time, cable seemed to be waging an endless number of regulatory and policy battles.

“It was a very exciting time — for the industry and for me,” Wheeler said. “So many things were happening and so many people were taking significant risks, many of which paid off beyond anyone’s wildest imaginations.”

Wheeler said he left the NCTA because “I was hooked on the Kool-Aid. I believed in the technology, and the future of the technology, and I wanted to be part of it.”

In 1995, when the cable industry marked its 20th anniversary, Cablevision magazine named Wheeler one of the 20 most influential individuals in its history. On the 25th anniversary of the cellular telecommunications industry (2008), news Web site FierceWireless named him one of that industry’s top 10 innovators. He was elected to the Wireless Hall of Fame in 2005.

Wheeler has written two books: Take Command: Leadership Lessons of the Civil War (Doubleday, 2000) and Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails: The Untold Story of How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War (HarperCollins, 2006). He also writes regularly for several newspapers.

Wheeler, a longtime political activist, left Core Capital for a month in the winter of 2007 so he and his wife could stump in Iowa for then-longshot presidential candidate Barack Obama. After Obama was elected the following year, Wheeler became part of his transition team in the areas of science, technology, space and the arts.

“My wife and I cut our political teeth in the 1960s,” Wheeler said. “We figured that now that we are in our 60s, we ought to do what we did in the ’60s. … It was great to be there when a dream was coming true.”