Ask cable executives about Cablevision
Systems chief operating officer Tom Rutledge, and certain
words pop into the conversation.
Integrity, intelligence and intuition are commonly used to
describe the man who has managed to stay out of the direct
glare of the spotlight throughout almost 40 years in cable,
while spearheading some of the most successful efforts the
industry has ever known.
While Rutledge is a man of few words — even fewer when
talking about himself — he has been shaped by a succession
of strong managerial mentors and what seems to be an unyielding
belief that cable was not only the future of TV back
when he started in the early 1970s, but remains so today.
‘THE BASIS OF LEADERSHIP’
Rutledge offers a simple explanation of his managerial style:
lead by example.
“I think you have to be honest and have integrity and when
your employees see you acting, they can predict how you act
in the future. That comes from having a consistent point of
view. It requires personal integrity, which is the basis of leadership.
It helps to know what you’re doing, too.”
Rutledge got his start in the business in 1972 as the first
employee of Eastern Telecom, a Mount Lebanon, Pa., cable
and phone provider. That came after a year trekking around
Europe, the Middle East, the U.S and Canada (including
working in a shipyard in Virginia) after graduating from high
school at age 17.
“I got the experience of building a cable system from the
ground up,” he said, doing everything from climbing poles
to building headends and installing cable.
A year later, he enrolled at California University of Pennsylvania
in California, Pa., majoring in economics.
After college, he was accepted into a manager trainee
program at American Television and Communications. He
moved steadily up the ladder on the operations side as ATC
morphed into Time Warner Cable. All the while, he said, he
kept his history in the trenches to himself.
“There was a period of time when there was some prejudice
against people who climbed poles,” he explained. “So
I never really told anybody about it. I was hired in an era
when the industry was looking for managers, so I presented
myself as a manager.”
He would run systems throughout the TWC footprint, including
those in Austin, Texas, Portland, Maine, Philadelphia,
Pittsburgh and Albany, N.Y.
In 2001, he became president of Time Warner Cable. He left
in January 2002, when the opportunity arose to take responsibility
for Cablevision’s cable operations.
He became Cablevision’s COO in 2004, with added responsibilities
for the Rainbow Media Holdings programming unit,
commercial telephony business Optimum Lightpath, newspaper
Newsday and Clearview Cinemas. Cablevision expects to
spin off Rainbow into a separate entity later this year.
“From programming to distribution, and especially the
many technological advances driving the cable industry,
Tom has a mastery of the issues and dynamics that is nearly
unrivaled in the business,” Discovery Communications CEO
David Zaslav, a long-time friend and colleague, said. “He is
one of cable’s true talents, and at the same time, completely
humble about his long track record of accomplishments.”
Accomplishments such as Cablevision’s groundbreaking
launch of a triple-play video, voice and high-speed data off ering
at the then-unheard-of price of $89.97 per month.
Today, every major cable operator has a similar offering.
And Cablevision has shown that such a starting price point
won’t erode profit margins.
At 3.3 million subscribers (including the former Bresnan
Communications), Cablevision is the fifth-biggest U.S. cable
TV provider. But it ranks No. 1 in monthly revenue per
subscriber, at $149.75. It also tops MSO lists in penetration of
high-speed Internet (52.7%) and telephony (52.6%).
Other innovations include being the fi rst cable provider to
offer free Wi-Fi service to high-speed data customers. And it
has blazed trails with innovative new video services, notably
a network-based Remote Storage-Digital Video Recorder
and live streaming of its full channel suite over iPad devices
inside the home.
Rutledge credits his time with forward-thinking executives
including former ATC chairman and CEO Trygve
Myhren, former Time Warner Cable chief Joe Collins, former
Time Warner Inc. CEO Jerry Levin and Cablevision’s ruling
Dolans: chairman Charles Dolan and CEO James Dolan.
“I respect all of them, they all gave me different insights
into the value proposition of different management,”
“Trygve was a great marketer. Joe Collins was a great manager
and taught me that to be a great manager you have to
have confidence in your management. Jerry, I respected
enormously, but he made a big mistake with AOL. And Chuck
and Jim just show you what aggressive risk-taking and customer
orientation can get you.”
Rutledge’s office is directly across from CEO Jim Dolan,
and the two are close. “He knows what I think and I know
what he thinks and we change each other’s thoughts.
We’ve been working together for 10 years now. I think the
company’s success is visible. I’ve enjoyed the experience.”
The CEO echoes that sentiment.
“Tom is a top-rate executive who has helped navigate
Cablevision into a leadership position in the industry, even
while operating in the country’s most competitive market,”
James Dolan said. “He has excellent foresight, great leadership
skills and a track record that is worthy of enormous respect
Jeff Wlodarczak, principal and media & communications
analyst at Pivotal Research Group, said all of cable can learn
— and has learned — from Rutledge.
“What I usually tell other managements, whether they are
private or public, watch what Rutledge is doing and how he goes
about the business,” Wlodarczak said. “I think at the end of the
day, I can’t recall a move that he has made that hasn’t worked,
and the rest of the industry has eventually followed him.”