Smit Is It for Charter


Charter Communications Inc.’s new president and CEO said Tuesday that he will focus initially on customer-service initiatives, building on the work of interim president and CEO Bob May and the MSO’s board of directors.

Former America Online Inc. Access Business president Neil Smit, who was named to the Charter position Tuesday, has a lot of experience on the customer-service side. One of his first jobs at AOL was revamping the Internet-service provider’s dismal customer-service reputation.

“I think Charter’s a great company -- strong technology, talented people and solid growth potential,” Smit said. “Out of the box, the first step is, I’ll get out in the field and try to understand the opportunities and challenges directly from the people. I plan on continuing the great work that Bob [May] and the board have made over the last year in Focus on Excellence.”

He continued, “I focus on the consumer and the fundamentals, which I think is very consistent with some of the programs Bob [May] has implemented. I’d like to continue to generate improvements in the overall customer experience, from service delivery to customer care, new product offerings. I’d like to get very focused on the customer-management capabilities and segment-level marketing. I’d like to focus on the execution of some of the growth strategies for new services and fill some of the critical positions.”

Although he has no direct cable-operations experience, Smit -- who starts Aug. 22 -- said he has had contact with almost all of the major MSOs and telephone companies.

“I think I’ve got relevant experience and a lot of practical know-how,” he said. “I’m involved in a 21 million-member subscription business. I’ve managed customer-service operations, [I have] a lot of marketing and sales and operations experience. I think the cable industry is evolving into more of a multiproduct organization, and I think some of the experiences at AOL have helped to provide me with unique insights into the converging entertainment and communications industries.”

Charter still has some other positions to fill -- chief financial officer, general counsel and chief marketing officer. Smit would not say when those appointments would be made, but he added that he would be involved in the selection process.

“There are some great candidates in the pipeline, both internal and external,” Smit said. “I think it’s commendable how the bench strength has stepped up. Some of the positions that people have filled internally have really helped deliver some good results in Q1 and Q2. It will be one of my priorities in the early days, and I will focus on filling those roles as son as possible, obviously without sacrificing quality.”

Smit said he would relocate his family to St. Louis, making him the first Charter CEO to reside in that town since Jerald Kent resigned in 2001.

“The family and I are moving to St. Louis. The boys start school at the end of the month,” he added.

May will remain on Charter’s board of directors and as a member of its strategic-planning committee.

Multichannel News reported the possibility of Smit’s appointment in Monday’s edition.

“Neil is a proven, talented executive with the right combination of operational, marketing and customer-service skills to lead Charter to the next level,” Charter chairman Paul Allen said in a prepared statement.

“He brings a wealth of practical know-how built over an impressive 20-year career working with multiservice providers and leading consumer brands,” Allen added. “He also has a real vision of the opportunities and challenges in today’s rapidly converging entertainment and communications industries that will benefit Charter. We’re delighted that he’s part of our team and look forward to him continuing to implement our

comprehensive operations-improvement program

to better position Charter for growth.”

Smit joined AOL in 2000 and has steadily moved up the ranks. As head of the access-business unit, he was responsible for overseeing Internet-access services including AOL, CompuServe and Netscape ISP.

As president, he was responsible for all aspects of the $5 billion revenue, 21 million-member ISP business, including member acquisitions, retention, brand marketing, product definition, customer service, business development and finance. He oversaw the work of more than 11,000 people.

A 10-year veteran of the packaged-goods industry -- he worked at Nabisco and General Mills’ Pillsbury before moving to AOL -- he also is considered to have a strong marketing background.