United International Holdings Inc. last week continued its
consolidation and reorganization, this time on the management side.
The Denver-based company named Mike Fries its new president
-- a title that he takes over from Gene Schneider, who will remain at the helm as chairman
Fries, formerly president of UIH Asia/Pacific, will
continue to oversee that region. He'll also spearhead the company's financial
affairs and Latin American operations -- a duty that he inherited from David Leonard, who
resigned last month as UIH Latin America's president.
At the same time, UIH reassigned chief financial officer
Tim Bryan to the post of president of United Pan-Europe Communications (UPC), its wholly
owned European unit. He will report to Mark Schneider, UPC's CEO, who reports to Gene
Fries said the moves "try to bring a renewed focus
from the parent down," but they "don't represent a radical shift in the
current goals." He added that the reassignments are also a step in making UIH "a
global telecom company, not a holding company" -- an assertion shared by at least one
high-ranking executive at another international cable operation.
UIH plans to continue its consolidation process by selling
between $20 million and $50 million worth of properties over the next year. That would
represent a relatively small portion of UIH's global portfolio, which boasts 4.1
million subscribers and 9.3 million homes passed.
The most likely near-term sale is its 49 percent in
Mexico's Megapo Comunicaciones, a 55,000-subscriber MSO, for which potential buyers
are currently submitting bids, Fries said.
Leonard, who couldn't be reached for comment, left UIH
to become CEO of WLL International Inc., a newly formed provider of local telephony
services that is bidding on Brazil's local "mirror" licenses.
Fries and Gene Schneider denied some cautious speculation
that UIH would unload major portions of its Asian and Latin American portfolios, which,
analysts and investors said, are currently a drag on the company's advanced European
"I'm rooting for them to sell everything but
Europe," said Salvatore Muoio, principal of S.M. Investors L.P., an investment
partnership that owns shares of UIH. "Strategically, Europe is very important."
Muoio added that UIH's previous management structure often left analysts
"unclear" as to "who's actually running this place."
But one international cable executive, who asked not to be
named, also noted that UIH's Austar wireless and direct-to-home operation in
Australia and its Saturn hybrid fiber-coaxial system in New Zealand hold considerable
Bryan's appointment in Europe -- where UPC is
aggressively expanding with plans to provide telephony and a digital-programming service
akin to Tele-Communications Inc.'s Headend in the Sky -- would seem to indicate that
the company is a step closer to selling part of UPC through an initial public offering,
reports of which surfaced earlier this year. Fries wouldn't comment on that
Shares of UIH, meanwhile, were further battered in almost
triple their normal volume last week, amid the overall market decline. They closed at
$9.69 Sept. 30, down almost 50 percent from their 52-week high of $19.44.