Creating Harmony at Time Warner: Peter Stern


Peter Stern, 33, newly named executive vice president of product management for Time Warner Cable, believes that risk usually lurks in the absence of coordination.

“As we move into seven different business lines, with the pace of innovation in each increasing, the demand for coordination is growing exponentially,” he says of the need for a product-management function.

For Stern, the ability to synchronize multiple efforts — operations, engineering, marketing, legal — is about discipline. And discipline is something Stern knows well: As a boy, he was so gifted as a pianist, his teachers wanted him to do nothing else.

Though he didn’t choose music as a profession, it remains a big part of Stern’s life. It united him with his wife, Sue: at Harvard University, she sang soprano, he sang tenor. He recently gave a chamber music performance with members of Connecticut’s Stamford Symphony Orchestra.

Stern performed competitively until enrolling at Harvard, where he studied music and English. After completing a law degree at Yale in 1997, he joined consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

There, he pulled a plum of a client: Time Warner Inc. Before turning 30, Stern was developing strategy with a cable Who’s Who list: Dick Parsons, Steve Case, Glenn Britt.

“Peter has a wise, old head, on young shoulders,” says Michael Diamond, group vice president for Time Warner Cable. “He’s super smart and driven, but also great at developing his people and giving them opportunities to shine.”

Stern joined Time Warner Inc.’s corporate strategy department full-time in 2001. During that time, in part, he helped the cable arm develop an entry strategy for telephony. Last April, he stepped into the cable life full-time as senior vice president of strategic planning.

With his promotion in May, Stern now runs product management for all of Time Warner’s video and broadband data products. (Voice will be added next year.)

That means identifying what customers most want, and moving it to the top of the to-do list. Example: Research showed that people harbor a big desire to back up to the beginning of a TV show, if they tune in late. That spawned the company’s recently announced “Start Over” service.

Among the brainteasers he’s bent on solving is how cable can participate in portable media players.

For so many accomplishments, in so few years, Stern is noticeably humble. “The important thing to know is when to defer to people who know more than you do,” he says.