As a kid growing up in South Carolina, Bob Stanzione dreamed of someday working as an engineer in the auto industry, designing sleek and shiny hot rods.
“Every young American boy in the 1960s wanted to have a cool car,” he said. “I wanted to be an engineer … I wanted to be in a company that made things.”
Today, Stanzione’s company makes a different kind of speed demon — ultra-fast DOCSIS 3.0 cable modems, which promise to keep the industry at the forefront of broadband leadership.
Stanzione, as chairman and CEO of Arris, has grown the company into the biggest technology supplier that caters exclusively to the cable industry, with $1.1 billion in revenue for 2008. The company is the top provider of voice-and-data consumer-premises equipment to cable worldwide.
Motorola and Cisco Systems are larger overall, but according to Stanzione, Arris can be nimbler by remaining aligned with cable.
“By being focused, we don’t get distracted,” he said. “We don’t have to come up with solutions that meet multiple market needs.”
Stanzione has stuck with cable through boom and bust times for more than a decade, and he’s kept a devoted team around him through it, said Mike Pohl, who now serves as a consultant to Arris. Pohl was previously head of global strategies at C-COR, the video-on-demand and network-management company Arris acquired in 2007.
“He’s been able to keep a solid team because he’s a pretty straight shooter,” said Pohl. “You don’t have to guess what he means. He’ll tell you.”
And Stanzione wins respect from colleagues because he’s not a grandstander, according to Pohl: “He’s not out there grabbing a lot of headlines for what he’s done.”
Stanzione, 61, came to cable by way of Ma Bell, spending the first 26 years of his career at AT&T.
While still studying for his master’s degree in industrial engineering at North Carolina State University, Stanzione went to work for a branch of the Bell System, Western Electric, which later became AT&T Network Systems.
In the late 1980s, he was working on a Bell Labs skunk-works project with Antec (then Anixter) called Laser Link, which developed a way to modulate a radio-frequency signal over wavelengths of light. Through his work on the project, Stanzione got to know John Egan, whom he succeeded as CEO of Antec several years later, and met other cable pioneers, such as John Malone, Jim Chiddix, Jim Robbins, Bill Schleyer and Frank Drendel.
“Cable guys worked at a different pace, and they had a different style,” Stanzione recalled. “They didn’t study things as long [as the telephone industry]. They were more trial-and-error … ready, fire, aim. Not to say one was right and one was wrong. They were just different.”
Laser Link was sold to Time Warner Cable (“at a loss, I might add — you wouldn’t believe the cost of those things,” Stanzione noted), which used it to build the first hybrid fiber-coaxial networks in the industry. “Bob had lasers that worked,” said Chiddix, former chief technology officer of Time Warner Cable. “He was involved at that very critical juncture. Getting HFC rolling was a huge step.”
Stanzione “understands technology deeply, and he’s brought that knowledge together with the potential of cable to build innovative products,” said Chiddix. He and Stanzione currently serve together on the board of timing-systems vendor Symmetricom.
Stanzione, who now calls HFC the most-effective network architecture for delivering two-way services, professes no regrets about leaving the telco world: “Cable was the best thing that ever happened to me, no question about it.”
In 1995, he was tapped to lead the startup voice-over-cable venture between Antec and Nortel, known then as Arris Interactive, which prefigured today’s voice-over-Internet protocol technology.
“Doing telephone over cable was a fairly radical concept at that time,” he said.
He left Arris Interactive in 1998 to become president and chief operating officer of Antec. Stanzione then led the buyout of Nortel’s stake in Arris Interactive and merged it into Antec, forming a new company named Arris Group.
In early 2007, Stanzione and Arris made a big bid to expand into digital video with a $1.2 billion offer for Tandberg Television. Ultimately, Arris was outbid by Ericsson. Arris later that year bought C-COR, which gave the company network access and assurance, video-on-demand and advanced advertising platforms.
“We’re a company that’s been the dominant player in voice over cable, and we’ve reached a pretty high position in data,” Stanzione said. “But the key thrust of the cable industry has always been video.”
While Arris doesn’t want to enter the traditional digital set-top business, long dominated by Motorola and Scientific Atlanta (now part of Cisco), Stanzione sees a growing opportunity for the company as video increasingly becomes delivered over IP networks.
“There are 20 services I can think of that provide over-the-top video-on-demand,” Stanzione said, citing Hulu and Netflix. “So we want to participate in all of that. If someone’s downloading a movie over their Apple TV, that’s coming over our CMTS [cable-modem termination system] and through our EMTA [embedded multimedia terminal adapter].”
In his personal life, Stanzione has championed the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. He became committed to the cause after learning that a close associate’s child was afflicted with CF, referred to as an “orphan disease” because the relatively small number of people who have it means pharmaceutical companies don’t have a financial incentive to develop drugs to treat it.
“We’ve seen an incredible amount of progress made toward a cure,” Stanzione said.
Born in the Bronx, Stanzione and his family moved to the Southeast when he was young.
He met the girl who would become his wife, Kaye, in typing class in junior high school. “I took typing in school because there were a lot of girls in class,” Stanzione said.
The couple have been married for 40 years and have three children and eight grandkids.
Stanzione has retained his automotive passion through the years. When he’s not driving his Porsche or Audi sports cars, Stanzione enjoys a round of golf — but, by his own admission, he’s a bit of a duffer.
As Pohl, who’s known for being fiercely competitive on the links, noted with a chuckle, “It’s a testimony to Bob’s tenacity that he still plays golf.”