The Vanguard Award for Associates and Affiliates is unusual because it honors the contributions of an outsider — from an equipment manufacturer or service supplier — who still makes invaluable contributions to the cable industry.
This year’s award is perhaps even more unusual, because the National Cable & Telecommunications Association is honoring Tim Baxter, president of Samsung Electronics America, even though the consumer launch of Samsung and its cable partners’ apps has not yet happened. It’s also uncommon because the association is celebrating an executive from the consumer-electronics industry, better known for combating cable companies than for collaborating with them.
But Baxter has built his reputation in part on his ability to look beyond established conventions and lead into the future.
Glenn Britt, chairman and CEO of Time Warner Cable, praised his company’s close relationship with Samsung. He pointed to Baxter’s “forward-leaning engagement of us as true partners and his demonstrated leadership in the CE space.”
Baxter’s willingness to proselytize for what he believes in has been crucial to the progress that’s been made, added Bright House Networks CEO Steve Miron. “Tim has been a leader and evangelist on the vast potential for interactive cable programming to be enjoyed on any device, anywhere,” Miron said. “He’s made an incredibly positive impact on consumer-electronics industry innovations over the course of his career, and has forged strong partnerships across multiple screens.”
Baxter, who sits on the board of the Consumer Electronics Association, became president of Samsung in 2009 after three years as the executive vice president of sales and marketing for its consumer business division. He’d already had nearly a quarter-century of experience in the business when he came to Samsung.
Ten of those earlier years were spent at Sony Corp. of America, where he eventually became senior vice president of strategic marketing, heading product marketing divisions and Sony’s Blu-ray efforts, including the Hollywood studio support negotiations and its cross-company launch strategy, advertising, promotions and public-relations activities. Before that he served at AT&T and Lucent Technologies for 13 years, where he ran marketing, product management and sales for various categories in the residential phone businesses.
That was a fitting start for Baxter, a graduate of Roger Williams University — whose father had worked for the telephone company his whole career — because it came right at a critical moment AT&T’s history, as the Bell System was heading toward its breakup and telecom was evolving into a commercially competitive field.
When Baxter — who still lives in his hometown of Parsippany, N.J. — started at AT&T and Lucent, he was doing results analysis for a company that had been leasing out phones “and suddenly had to build a retail business with new products.”
That kind of a shifting playing field was a good training ground for the 21st century and its rapid technological changes, Baxter said. But he still wanted to deal more directly with the consumer business, so he eventually left for Sony.
The Japanese consumer-electronics giant was struggling at the time, so Baxter was exposed to the TV, audiovisual and other connected businesses during an era “when the world was shifting from analog to digital, and when TVs were shifting from tube to flat and from a male-centric purchase to something with more balance and more of a design element.” Those developments, along with Baxter’s efforts in the “Blu-ray format war,” were also vital stepping stones toward his current role.
Baxter is not a hard-core early adopter but he prefers to be on the front end of new technologies. He also likes when he brings home a Samsung Galaxy S4 and suddenly is the cool dad for his three kids.
“They get very excited,” he said.
While he has learned a great deal about the technology to keep up with his teen and young adult children, “I am not an engineer and I always look at the consumer side and the business model and strategy first,” he said. “I come at everything from a consumer use perspective, to see if we are creating a new experience that is easy to use.”
He sees consumers with nearly 30 electronics devices in the average home “and they are not connected to each other. Trying to connect them in compelling ways is what gets me excited.”
On the business side, he said, it’s important to understand the “value chain,” or to know what matters to each participant in a deal.
When he was elevated to president, Baxter said, the “stage got a little bigger” but he maintained his same approach, “connecting with people first and foremost, building a strong team and letting them run their businesses.”
It has worked, as Samsung has climbed to become the market leader or fastest-growing company in just about every electronics category.
“We need to act differently now than we did when we were in the number four position,” he said. “We have to offer thought leadership. That’s why we’re so excited to partner with the cable industry, to push each other to create new technology together.”