Executive Searches are Paying Off for Cable Pros

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Charter Communications Inc.’s former chief operating officer, Maggie Bellville, has resurfaced, this time as an executive recruiter, a business that has bounced back in cable despite waves of consolidation.

She has signed on as a partner at Atlanta-based CarterBaldwin, the clients of which range from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies in multiple industries. She’ll help her new employer in recruiting and business consulting, according to CarterBaldwin.

CarterBaldwin did a search for the former cable executive years ago, Bellville said, and she was impressed by the quality of candidates the firm presented. Executive placement is “something I’ve been doing for years, anyway,” she added.

Telecommunications is a new specialty for CarterBaldwin, according to managing director Jennifer Poole.

“A lot of [the decision] had to do with Maggie,” Poole said. “She fits our culture, so we decided to jump on an opportunity.”

The firm sees telecommunications as an area of constant growth, after four tough years.

Indeed, veteran executive recruiters in the cable space say things are rebounding after what one jokingly referred to a four-year “arctic blast.” A slowdown in the financial markets slammed telecommunications and hiring freezes were the norm. Now, competition is heating up and companies are investing again.

“We’re seeing very well-funded organizations — Time Warner [Inc.], SBC [Communications Inc.], Comcast [Corp.], DirecTV [Inc.], News Corp. — going full-tilt to gain market share before they lose them forever,” said Carrie Pryor, a senior client partner with Korn/Ferry International in New York. “The drive is to control the customer, whether residential or small business.”

Executive searchers say they are much busier now than they were a year ago. They’re also seeing talent shuttling between cable, telephone and start-up technology companies.

The cable industry is undergoing a sea change, as companies reinvent themselves as full-service providers.

“Cable used to be a hardware box company. Once you got that box in the house, you were done. Now, everybody has got to get expert on new things,” Bellville said.

One area of heightened activity is the corporate financial sector. The massive failure of Enron Corp. in 2002 triggered the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.

This established stricter rules for auditing and accountability for public companies, so firms are hiring more specialists for those roles. Once a master’s degree in business administration was sufficient for those positions, but these days more companies are looking for candidates with experience as certified public accountants, executive searchers said.

As the cable industry continues to consolidate, local general managers, engineers and marketing personnel might find themselves displaced as corporations continue to regionalize operations. Someone who was just good at the local level might not be the great candidate sought by a corporation who can handle the same task at the regional level. That’s when companies start looking outside, searchers said. Firms have been drafting from the packaged-goods and customer-service specialty areas, they added.

“Everyone’s looking to upgrade their team,” said Pryor.

For employees with longstanding career goals in cable, this is no time for the “turtle syndrome,” or hiding out from change, noted Chuck Morris of Warren & Morris Ltd., a veteran recruiter.

“Look ahead, plan for your whole career. … Get that specialized training, that MBA, learn the latest technology, reach and stretch. Volunteer for stuff at the office,” he said. “It’s so basic, but people forget that.”

Even if a worker does not aspire to management, for job security, become a “functional specialist,” Morris added.

Though the pressure is on for companies to upgrade teams quickly, Bellville said she hopes corporate planning still leaves time for a learning curve for executives with potential to move up the ladder.

“That can never be the case, that there’s not time for the learning curve. I’ve seen it done every day. If you train and support it will prove itself in the end, it always does,” she said.

Searchers added that their own firms are among those hiring. Despite the variety of veterans and the addition of CarterBaldwin, headhunters said there is more than enough work to go around.