Carl Vogel is quite likely the only Top Five cable chief who has ever roomed with Charlie Ergen.
Vogel, 46, the Charter Communications Inc. CEO and chair of this week’s National Show in New Orleans, had the privilege of sharing hotel rooms with EchoStar Communications Corp. chairman (and cable industry nemesis) Ergen and other EchoStar colleagues when he held executive jobs (including president) at the direct-broadcast satellite TV provider in the mid-1990s.
Ergen famously preferred to spend money growing his satellite business and not on hotel rooms.
“I bunked with everyone when I was traveling with EchoStar. My wife used to remind me it was like when I played baseball in college — we saw how many guys we could get in a room,” Vogel said last month, alluding to his time at St. Norbert College in DePere, Wisc., where he studied finance and accounting.
Industry executives say Vogel’s background in cable operations, programming and satellite TV — he’s a former CEO of Primestar Inc. and spent years at Jones Intercable Inc. and Jones Entertainment Group — set him apart.
“It takes somebody with Carl’s diverse background, in terms of the education he got with EchoStar and everything that he’s been involved in,” Jones Intercable founder Glenn Jones said. “He didn’t just read about things. He’s done all of this.”
Jones hired Vogel, then 25 years old, in 1983 as the cable company’s vice president/controller and treasurer. He’d been working at Arthur Andersen & Co. as an accountant, handling telecom, oil and gas and recreation accounts. Jones Intercable was a client; Vogel was on the audit team and had consulted for Jones.
“The first time I met Glenn, he said, 'I don’t care how old you are, I don’t care if you’re black or white, male or female. If you do a good job you’re going to do well at Jones,’ “ Vogel recalled.
“I think Glenn was very true to his word, and that’s certainly something that I like to think about when I look at my management team as well.”
Vogel has taken a higher profile in the cable industry during the past year, which some of his colleagues attribute his installing a new management team, led by executive vice president and chief operating officer Maggie Bellville. She joined Charter in December 2002.
He’s also appeared relaxed and affable at recent public appearances. Appearing on a panel at a gathering of cable public-affairs specialists in Washington, D.C., in March, he addressed calls for parental protection against “indecent” programming by disclosing that he needed to change the lockout PIN on his home remote because he’d learned his son had cracked the code.
He also co-chaired the Cable Positive benefit dinner in New York in March, where he spoke amusingly about how he’d gotten to know honoree Matt Blank, of Showtime, when, at Jones Entertainment, he made a feature film for Showtime — something few people in the room probably knew.
In October 2001 Charter chairman Paul Allen chose Vogel to fill the vacancy left by longtime CEO Jerald Kent, who’d resigned a month earlier, reportedly after butting heads with Allen.
Vogel’s first year on the job was no joyride. In August 2002, the Justice Department launched an investigation into Charter’s accounting practices. The following summer, it sued four former Charter executives for allegedly inflating revenue and subscriber counts.
Charter stock, which was trading at about $13 per share when Vogel was hired, plummeted to a low of 79 cents in March 2003, having been pounded by investors over concerns about the investigation and delays in financial filings.
It has rebounded somewhat since last summer, and closed last Thursday at $4.14, down 23 cents.
While Charter’s analog video subscriber count dropped from 6.32 million at the end of 2002 to 6.17 million at the end of last year — it also lost a net of about 11,000 digital-video customers during that period — it gained 427,500 additional high-speed data customers last year.
Charter’s roughly $19 billion in debt continues to be a drag. But Vogel’s team last month took some steps to extend the maturities of some debt, securing agreements to refinance about $8 billion in credit lines.
'NOSE TO GRINDSTONE’
Stifel Nicolaus & Co. analyst Ted Henderson, who worked for Vogel at Jones, credits him with getting Charter back on track.
“The guy has done nothing but keep his nose to the grindstone at the company and fulfill the obligations to shareholders when, in all honesty, I think he inherited a situation that wasn’t all that visible when he took” the job, Henderson said.
“There’s been no bitching, no bad-mouthing people in the press and no excuses. The way he’s handled himself in a very rough situation there is admirable. And now that he has his team in place, hopefully the transitional year of 2003 is behind them and they move forward with the business.”
Charter — one of the more aggressive cable companies in terms of rolling out ITV products from Allen’s Digeo Inc. — will continue to accelerate its rollout of thick-client set-tops, Vogel said.
A test of Internet-based telephone service also is in the works.
Among the people Vogel said made an impact on his career are Jones, Ergen, former Jones executive Alan Angelich (now of Janco Partners in Denver), Liberty Media Corp. chairman John Malone and former Tele-Communications Inc. CEO Leo Hindery.
Vogel was a senior vice president at Liberty before coming to Charter, and has held several positions at Liberty-controlled companies.
Vogel’s father was a housepainter and homebuilder, and he grew up in the Chicago suburbs before moving to Wisconsin during high school.
He’s lived in Denver for more than 20 years, where he lives with his wife, Carol Demming, and where he moved much of St. Louis-based Charter’s headquarters staff. The Vogels have five children, ranging in age from 12 to 20.
He also has a spiritual side. Vogel is set to give a keynote address Tuesday morning at the annual meeting of the Christians in Cable industry group at the National Show.
Vogel has goals beyond Charter, but his focus remains seeing the MSO “through to be the company that I think it can be, and [to] really improve our operations and move up our customer-satisfaction rates and provide an environment for people to be successful.”
“That’s both a short and long-term goal,” he said. “And I think I want to see my kids grow up and be successful as well.”