Dressler's Lasting Advice


Old Greenwich, Conn. — Everybody who talks about Fred Dressler has a story, Glenn Britt said. Some are strictly about business, about how Time Warner Cable's top programming executive could get what he wanted in a contract, and was willing to stonewall, stall, do what it took to make sure his company got what it needed and anticipated future changes in the TV business.

But a lot of the stories are about friendship, about dealing with people the right way, about helping and mentoring, about times “where Fred reached out and did something special,” Britt said, recalling his longtime friend and colleague at a memorial to Dressler last Thursday. Dressler died on Christmas Eve of pancreatic cancer, less than a year into his retirement at age 66.

Britt, Time Warner Cable's chairman and CEO, said his first Dressler story went back to 1981, when Glenn and Barbara Britt moved to Denver from New York after Time Inc. bought American Television and Communications, a cable company for which Dressler was trying to obtain a franchise in Denver.

The Britts “were strangers in a strange land,” and Dressler “drew me into what he was doing and he drew me into a friendship. He didn't have to do that, but he did, because that's how Fred was.”

“Fred was different,” Britt said. “He always reached out, even when there was no particular reason.”

Cable seems to be one of those industries built on relationships. It was easy to see why that's the case, looking around the room among the 400 or so people who came to hear Britt and others tell their stories about Dressler. Many were programmers and cable operators who, like Britt and Dressler, got started in the business decades ago and were still in it.

Another of those longtime friends and colleagues, Andy Heller, said Dressler had rules. “And the easiest rule to follow is it's always better to make a friend than an enemy, so you should always try.”

Heller said “Freddy used to tell me that friendship is the only thing that we really get to control in our lives. And I think that allowed him to be a wonderful friend and to teach others to be the same.”

“How you behave toward others is the essential of living your life,” Heller, the domestic distribution president at Turner Broadcasting, said was Dressler's point.

“That's why this room is filled with hundreds of people,” Heller said. “Despite the fact that many of you sat across the table from him and heard 'no,' or 'yes but,' a heck of a lot more often than you heard yes.”

Britt told another funny story, about a programming negotiation Dressler invited him to sit in on. He couldn't recall who the vendor was, just that he'd been trying to get a meeting with the gatekeeper for months. Britt said what happened next was rather stunning. Dressler proceeded on a verbal “magical mystery tour” that Britt couldn't follow, and that was probably equally baffling to the man who'd obtained the meeting. “But it was all really polite and wonderful.”

At the end, Dressler told the man they really should schedule another session to continue the conversation. The man, presumably pleased, left. Dressler turned to Britt and said, “Of course I'm not going to see him again for six months.”

“That was classic Fred,” Britt said. “But he could also move very quickly if he wanted to.”

When negotiations got tough, and people got stressed, Dressler's mantra, according to Britt, was: “It's all about the process. Enjoy the process.”

Britt said he thought about that for years before he really understood what it meant. This problem too, shall pass, Dressler was saying, and then another one will come along that needs resolving. Enjoy solving problems.

Don't overly exploit an advantage, Dressler told Britt, because there will come a time when you lack the upper hand.

“Above all, it's the people that count. Not the numbers, not the balance sheet.”

In the last months of his life, the love and support Dressler received from far and wide, as testified by his friends and family, proved the soundness of that advice.