The retirement of a cable-industry icon-and the departure of another-have propelled Christopher Bowick and Greg Braden to new heights in cable engineering.
Bowick is slated to take over as Cox Communications Inc.'s senior vice president and chief technical officer when Alex Best retires at year-end. Best, who spent about 20 years of his career at Scientific-Atlanta Inc. and joined Cox in 1986, still will be relatively close by, lending Cox a hand as a consultant and serving on the boards of a handful of budding technology start-ups.
Braden will be more on his own. He was recently promoted to executive vice president of engineering and telephony operations at AT&T Broadband, replacing chief technology officer Tony Werner. Werner took the top spot at Aurora Networks, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based optical- networks company.
Though they ended up in similar positions with monster MSOs-and both start their last names with the letter B-each traveled a different road to get to his current post.
Bowick has spent the majority of his career in the cable industry, while Braden has worked mainly with telcos, including U S West, which has since been folded into Qwest Communications International Inc.
Bowick, who joined Cox in 1998 as vice president of technology development, has held the title of CTO before. He served in that capacity at Jones Intercable Inc., once a top-10 MSO before it merged with Comcast Corp.
Before that, Bowick spent a little more than a decade at S-A, working with the company's headend division and starting up its digital-video organization. It was at S-A that Bowick first met Best.
For Bowick, replacing Best has become something of a habit. "Believe it or not, when Alex left S-A, I took his spot," Bowick reminisced. "He was my first boss over there."
The two engineers stayed in touch and maintained their peer-to-peer relationship over the years. Best, obviously smitten with Bowick's engineering talents, then brought Bowick on board at Cox in 1998, anticipating he would take the engineering reins when Best retired.
"As he was doing his succession plans, Alex brought me in for just this purpose," Bowick said, noting that some "double-taking" was required when the opportunity to replace Best was presented to him.
"Alex is an icon in the industry. I knew filling those shoes would be an extremely challenging thing to do. I gave [the offer to succeed Best] very serious pause when he asked the question, for just that reason."
Braden's transition, which took place as AT&T Corp. finalized its merger with MediaOne Group Inc., was quicker. He joined the MSO in early May-at the request of AT&T Broadband CEO Dan Somers-to take over for departing cable telephony chief Curt Hockemeier. He had been MediaOne's vice president of digital-telephone services.
Though most of his career has centered on telephony, Braden-a former homicide detective with the Oregon State Police before joining Pacific Northwestern Bell in 1978-got his start in cable television in 1994 when U S West bought its first property in Atlanta.
He moved over to MediaOne to handle national telephony after U S West merged with Continental Cablevision Inc. in the mid-1990s.
While Bowick's rise at Cox was more than 18 months in the making, Braden said his transition period lasted about a fortnight. Still, prior experience in the cable industry made that short period more palatable, Braden said.
"Tony and I had been working with each other, and we had offices next to each other," he said. "It wasn't like I was starting from zero. We were working together on operations and engineering for phone services already, so we had a good, strong base to build upon."
Braden said he's still looking ahead even as he handles what could be considered a steep learning curve.
"I'm excited about this opportunity as AT&T Broadband goes through its next step of evolution and I get to pick up the work Tony has started. There are exciting things ahead of us in broadband," Braden said
He insisted that AT&T Corp.'s spin-off plan does not signal a change in the MSO's goal to become a strong player in the phone business. At last count, AT&T Broadband had more than 400,000 cable- telephony subscribers.
"We are growing this business faster than anyone ever has," he said.
Though Braden and Bowick have taken different career paths, their current goals are essentially the same. Both men hope to complete cable network upgrades and rebuilds and to launch new, advanced services in order to fight off heavy competition from direct-broadcast satellite, overbuilders and, perhaps sooner than later, a legion of fixed-wireless broadband operators.
"Our focus in 2001 will be to continue to focus on plant upgrades and rebuilds.to make sure we have an appropriate platform for new services," Bowick said. "Then we'll try to expand the footprint of our digital rollout, high-speed rollout and telephony rollout."
Bowick said video-on-demand and interactive television are next on his agenda.
Braden, like Bowick, said his company will "complete upgrades as fast as we can do it" and proceed with the launch of a full suite of voice, data and digital and interactive video services. At the same time, Braden said he and his team of engineers are taking a closer look at next-generation technologies for the MSO's network.