Washington -- Robert J. Sachs, a former journalism student,
is known for being helpful to the media. But that policy has limits, especially when it
comes to goofy photo ops.
Decker Anstrom, the outgoing president of the National
Cable Television Association, handed Sachs a cap bearing the words, "The Cable
Guy," as a kind of gavel-passing gesture to mark Sachs' installation as the
NCTA's new president and CEO last Monday.
Sachs looked at the cap for a moment, but he declined to
put it on. "I am mindful of Mike Dukakis," Sachs said, alluding to the infamous
tank ride that presidential candidate Dukakis took in 1988, wearing an oversized helmet
that made him look like Snoopy.
The hat crisis averted, Sachs launched into his first
meeting with reporters as the new NCTA chief. He promised continuity within the 80-person
organization and pledged to build consensus among the industry's various factions.
"And the key to attaining that consensus is to foster
an atmosphere where there is open dialogue among companies and mutual respect among
people," he said.
Sachs doesn't take over officially until Aug. 2. He
will use most of August to settle into a new Washington, D.C.-area home and to tie up
loose ends at his Boston-based cable-consulting business before plunging into the job
right after Labor Day.
Sachs is a principal with Continental Consulting Group, a
firm he started last year after 18 years with Continental Cablevision Inc. and MediaOne
Group Inc. He was senior vice president of corporate and legal affairs at the time of his
At the NCTA, he said, his three objectives were avoiding
cable-rate reregulation, promoting "hands-off-the-Internet" policies in
Washington and opposing government-imposed cable carriage of digital-TV signals.
He said his "greatest challenge" would be
persuading policymakers not to favor regulation over the marketplace as a means of
assuring investment in content and broadband deployment.
Sachs fielded questions for about 20 minutes, including a
few related to the challenges of guiding the NCTA when one of its largest contributors --
AT&T Corp. -- has business interests that extend far beyond cable, as well as its own
large Washington lobbying presence.
"I would expect that AT&T is going to be an active
and supportive member of this organization, and that more often than not, we are going to
be on the same page," he said. "There are new players. There is a challenge,
clearly, in keeping this industry functioning as smoothly and as well-oiled as it has
functioned in the past. And it is by no means an insurmountable challenge."
In something of a surprise, Sachs announced that former
NCTA executive vice president and chief operating officer June Travis agreed to return as
a full-time consultant for August and September to help him manage the transition.
Sachs hopes to name a permanent No. 2 soon. "I have
been given the authority to fill that position, and I would expect to do so in the next
couple of months," he said.
NCTA search-committee chairman James O. Robbins, president
and CEO of Cox Communications Inc., introduced Sachs as his panel's "unanimous
selection" after reviewing 250 resumes and interviewing 20 finalists.
Robbins said no one else was offered the job, and he and
Sachs hammered out the terms of the contract July 5 at a Marion, Mass., coffee shop
convenient to their respective Cape Cod-area vacation homes.
Sachs signed a three-year deal that will pay him $850,000
annually -- roughly what Anstrom was making this year. The pact provides for salary
increases based on his and the industry's performance, Robbins said.
Sachs was plucked from the operations side of the cable
business. BET Holdings Inc. chairman and CEO Robert Johnson said he didn't expect the
MSO-dominated search committee to pick someone from the programming side. "To be
honest, it has always been an operators' board," he added.
The job really sought out Sachs. When the recruiting firm
first approached him, Sachs said, he declined to be considered and recommended others. But
he changed his mind after realizing that the search committee was seriously pursuing him
and learning that his wife would agree to a Washington move.
"I just turned 50 in December, and I have at least one
more career in me," he added.
Robbins praised Sachs for his intelligence and knowledge of
"What you all will find out is that his Washington
experience is far more extensive than you would think for somebody who's operated in
a corporate environment for the last 20 years," Robbins said.
Not surprisingly, Robbins said, the search committee took
the political affiliation of candidates into question, but it decided that it should not
be an issue as long as the panel avoided naming someone associated with either the far
left or the far right.
Sachs is a registered Democrat, and he has contributed
nearly $20,000 to Democratic candidates and party organizations in the past six years,
including $3,500 to Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), a chief sponsor the 1992
cable-reregulation law. Anstrom and his predecessor, Jim Mooney, were Democrats, too.
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has been critical
of lobbying organizations that give their best-paying jobs to Democrats instead of
Republicans at a time when Republicans control Congress. A DeLay spokeswoman declined
A GOP spokesman, who asked not to be identified, said the
party has toned down its attacks on Democratic lobbyists who beat out Republicans for
highly paid jobs. "Whenever we do that, it looks like crying over spilt milk,"
the GOP source said.
Still, the source added, the fact that Democrats are
getting hired is irritating. "Republicans are the party in power and the party that
gets things done."