AOL Exec Eyed by Charter

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After nearly eight months of searching, Charter Communications Inc. is close to selecting a new CEO, and sources said last week that the front-runner is an executive from outside of the cable industry: Neil Smit, president of America Online Inc.’s access-business division.

Charter began an extensive search for a new chief immediately after former CEO Carl Vogel resigned in January, following clashes with chairman and principal owner Paul Allen. It hired Los Angeles-based executive-search firm Korn/Ferry International to interview candidates.

Last week, the rumor mill was hot and heavy that Charter was close to naming a new CEO.

But during its Aug. 2 conference call with analysts to discuss its second-quarter financial results, interim president and CEO Bob May said the search for a CEO -- as well as a chief financial officer, general counsel and chief marketing officer -- was continuing.

It is still unclear if Smit will be the final selection or what the timing of his appointment would be. But sources familiar with the situation said that for the moment, Smit is at the top of the list.

Charter spokesman Dave Andersen declined comment. Smit did not return a call for comment.

While at first blush, Smit would seem an odd choice to run Charter -- he has no cable-operations experience, and Charter is in desperate need of an operations leader -- former colleagues said he is a smart, capable executive with a knack for turning around difficult situations. That should make him feel at home at Charter.

For more on Charter’s CEO search, please see Mike Farrell’s story on page three of Monday’s issue of Multichannel News.