He had once studied engineering with hopes of joining the space program, and after college, he toiled for a real estate company, helping evict tenants that didn’t pay their rent.
But 35-year-old Mark Swan caught the cable bug in 1996 when he read a local news story about the potential of cable-modem service, featuring the founder of Comcast Corp., Ralph Roberts, and its current chairman and CEO, Brian Roberts.
“I said, 'This is a great company that I would like to try and work for, and they’re right here,” says Swan, who was then studying for his MBA at Philadelphia’s Drexel University.
Drexel helped Swan, then 25, line up an internship at Comcast, which led to a full-time gig and eventually a post in the company’s business development department. Today he serves as senior director of new business development at the MSO.
Swan has developed several new products at Comcast, and made them work — from writing the installation guide for the first Comcast Online rollouts, to helping Comcast strike a seminal deal with TiVo Inc. after years of failed talks.
Swan spends much of his time developing products that Comcast can bring to market in the next 18 to 24 months, and cutting deals with vendors that can deliver the goods.
Among the names of companies scribbled on grease boards hanging on the walls of his office at Comcast headquarters are TargetTV (a Comcast/QVC venture to measure set-top box usage), Buzztime (an interactive firm that Swan cut a deal with to supply consumers with games) and TiVo.
Swan is working on deploying TiVo’s digital video recorder service on set-tops Comcast already has in the field. He wants to make sure Comcast customers that already have shows stored on their DVRs will be able to keep them if they upgrade to a premium TiVo DVR.
Buzztime president Ty Lam has a nickname for the 35-year-old: “the elusive Swan.” Lam calls Swan a “straight shooter” who was “very focused” and “very honest.”
Swan’s managers at Comcast may be preparing him for a broader role. He is part of a select group of employees nationwide that participate in Comcast’s Executive Leadership Forum program.
“Through his leadership, he’s helping to find ways to bring new products to market faster by linking our strategic agreements to actual delivery of products, such as TiVo,” says Swan’s boss, Comcast vice president of product and business development Steve Heeb. “I also expect his experience in cable video and high-speed Internet to play an important role as we develop future cross-platform applications.”
Swan says he would like to continue what he’s doing now. “I like constructing something and the challenge of the negotiation. I would like to continue the work that we’ve done with TiVo and others in terms of how do you get business deals and associate them with a product that customers can see. And whether that is [interactive TV] or DVR or games or portable media or media centers, I’d like to be able to grow in that.”