Many of the men and women who helped shape the cable industry are now leaving their mark in a variety of other areas.
In the second of two reports, Multichannel News looks at some of the industry’s most influential names, with a look back at their careers in cable and what they’ve been up to since.
Several of these former high-profile executives are dedicating their time, talents and even personal wealth to giving back to society through charitable and cultural enterprises. Others have turned their passion and acumen to launching or nurturing new entrepreneurial ventures.
All continue to watch the industry closely, providing support and guidance to cable’s next generation of leaders.
THEN: Lou Borrelli was a student at the State University of New York-Oswego when TelePrompTer, which held the local cable franchise in town, was taking heat for programming only seven of its 12 local-affairs channels. The operator turned over a channel to the college, and Borrelli spent his senior year producing and directing college-sports and local-affairs programming. The college hired him after he graduated to continue his duties and teach some courses.
A year later in 1978, UA-Columbia Cablevision was turning on the switch of its new system in New Rochelle, N.Y., and Borrelli was hired to establish the system’s local origination and public access programming. He went on to work for Jeff Marcus, eventually becoming chief operating officer at Marcus Cable.
In 2001, Borrelli became senior vice president of AOL Broadband. In 2005, mobile TV service provider NEP Broadcasting tapped him as CEO.
Borrelli, who was named a Cable Pioneer in 2002, is very proud of the fact that Marcus Cable was named Operator of the Year by Cablevision magazine in 1998 — ironically, the year “we sold the company to Paul Allen, who later folded it into Charter Communications.” But he’s also proud of the “dozens of children in the Marcus family whose higher education would be paid for by the hard work of their parents and grandparents and the generosity of Jeff Marcus, who set aside a significant slice of equity for employees.”
NOW: Borrelli left NEP in January to deal with some family health issues, but is now aiming to reenter the industry. He’s been talking to various companies about a number of opportunities.
He is also founding sponsor of the Lewis B. O’Donnell Media Summit at SUNY-Oswego, now in its fifth year, which last week held a summit focused on digital media.
Borrelli continues to sing cable’s praises as an important and thriving industry, and only regrets that the business is sometimes “underestimated and misunderstood by those who should know better.”
THEN: Glenn Jones was a young, idealistic lawyer when the cable bug bit him in 1967. He sold his Volkswagen Beetle for $400 and used the funds as a down payment on his first cable system in Georgetown, Colo., an old mining town near the Continental Divide west of Denver. Jones Intercable was born. By the time the company was sold to Comcast for $3.2 billion a decade ago, Jones Intercable counted over 1 million customers. He also launched a home shopping network and a country music TV network, and he owned radio networks and a movie production company.
Jones Intercable partnered with Pacific Telesis in 1988 to operate cable systems in the U.K., and teamed with Bell Canada a year later to build hybrid cable/phone systems in the U.K. and Spain. Jones was the first U.S. cable company to become a local phone provider, serving customers in northern Virginia.
As much as he loved cable, Jones began venturing down another path in the 1990s. Jones International University, providing online college courses and degrees, launched in 1993 and was operational two years later. The first student graduated from the program in 1997. JIU became the first fully accredited online university in 1999, the year Comcast announced it was taking over Jones Intercable.
Along the way, Jones also acquired the National Cable Television Institute, which focuses on industry training for every level.
“I don’t regret the sale of my cable operations,” Jones said. “I loved the business, but I had already started the knowledge business and it was time to move on to new projects.”
NOW: Jones continues to care deeply about the cable industry, but confesses to being “infected with the knowledge business” that has become his primary focus.
“Cable has been good to us and to me,” he said. “That is why I’m so dedicated to it and why we have put so much into NCTI. We think we have an opportunity to differentiate cable with its level of service.”
As for JIU, Jones believes it “will be as large as cable was for us. We have students from all over the world taking classes and we are intent on making the cable industry’s employees the best trained workforce in the world.”
THEN: By the time Gus Hauser met Steve Ross of Warner Communications, he had already received a couple of law degrees (from Harvard University and the University of Paris Law School), and had worked for the Pentagon dealing with issues including the legal status of nonuniformed military advisers in Vietnam and U.S. rights in space following the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in 1957.
He left the government sector to become legal adviser to the international business arm of General Telephone & Electronics.
Hauser didn’t have a lot of cable experience, but Ross knew the young lawyer would be integral to Warner’s long-term success. Hauser was attracted to cable’s potential to deliver more than just off-air signals. He joined Warner Cable Communications as chairman and CEO in 1973. Hauser oversaw the development of QUBE, a mix of new programming and delivery methods that would change not only what the cable industry offered to consumers, but how it was delivered. Among the networks created under Hauser’s watch were Nickelodeon and MTV Network. He also developed delivery concepts such as pay-per-view and many of the interactive products available to consumers today.
Hauser left Warner (then called Warner Amex after a merger with American Express) in 1983. He formed Hauser Communications and eventually accumulated 500,000 customers. In 1993, Hauser stunned the cable industry when he agreed to sell his Montgomery County, Va., system to Southwestern Bell. As a former phone company executive, he held no animosity toward the phone industry, unlike many other cable operators at the time.
NOW: Hauser is immersed in a number of philanthropic endeavors these days, including the Hauser Foundation, which he formed with his wife Rita.
“We give to the usual things like universities,” Hauser said, “but we also develop our own philanthropic projects as well. They are always big programs that take a lot of time and funding.” The Hausers concentrate on “funding rather than fund-raising” and many of the foundation’s programs are global in nature.
The Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard teaches students how to set up, manage and operate philanthropies.
“It teaches governance, accountability and the role of religion in philanthropy, among other things,” Hauser said. “We’re also helping other countries with their philanthropic endeavors. We’re consulting with the Chinese government right now to allow philanthropies to operate in the country. Right now, there are no mechanisms in place for that there.”
THEN: Jeff Marcus’ first cable job was selling cable door-to-door for TeleVue during his college years at the University of California at Berkeley in 1967. He was hooked. Not long after, he landed at TelePrompTer, the largest U.S. MSO at the time, convincing consumers to pay for cable. Later, Marcus partnered with Rick Michaels at Communications Equity Associates, brokering cable-system sales.
But Marcus loved cable operations and, in 1981, he formed Marcus Communications. Several acquisitions and a merger later, he sold the company to Paul Allen as the basis for what would become Charter Communications. After he sold his systems serving 1.3 million customers in 1998, Marcus became CEO of AMFM, which at one time was one of the country’s largest radio companies.
NOW: Marcus is managing director of Crestview Partners, a New York-based private-equity firm, and oversees Crestview’s media assets, which include a cable system it bought from Adelphia Communications several years ago serving some 140,000 customers in San Juan, Puerto Rico, as well as a significant amount of Charter Communications securities. Marcus is actively involved in helping the company restructure in the wake of filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this year.
“It’s been somewhat intense,” Marcus said. “But it has been a great experience. Charter is a good company and it has great management. And besides that, 22% of Charter’s systems are old Marcus properties and it has been a lot of fun visiting those properties because a lot of people who work there today worked there when they were Marcus systems.”
When he’s not looking at cable and other media investments, Marcus serves as a member of the board of directors of the Prostate Cancer Foundation and serves on the advisory council of the Appeal Conscience Foundation. With homes in Colorado, Florida and New York, Marcus is always on the go.
After all these years, Marcus still likes the cable business. From an investment perspective, he considers cable to have the best pipe for delivering services to consumers. “I said that 15 years ago, and I still believe it today,” he said.
THEN: Trygve Myhren has run some large cable/media firms in his career — American Television & Communications and The Providence Journal Co. — and has been deeply involved in entrepreneurial efforts such as Food Network, E! Entertainment Television and The Tennis Channel. He also served as chairman of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.
NOW: Myhren continues to invest in or advise a number of media firms, including Jookt.com, an online firm designed to give high school athletes, coaches and parents a place to share stories and moments from the field.
“I retired from active management in 1997, but I guess I don’t retire well,” he joked. “I enjoy things like golf and skiing and seeing my kids and grandkids, but there is still so much to do.” With kids spread across the country and homes in Denver, Vail, Colo., and Naples, Fla., Myhren is often traveling.
He will also be spending quite a bit of time at the University of Denver, where he was recently named chairman of the board of trustees. He also is a board member of the Denver Art Museum and has been involved in the U.S. Adaptive Ski Team. Myhren served as U.S. chief of mission at the 2006 Paralympic Games in Torino and Sestrierre, Italy.
At one time, Myhren sat on nine public boards, but recently ended his involvement with the last public company — and he is glad of it. “Being on public boards is just fraught with liabilities,” he said. But he enjoys sitting on private boards and participating in venture capital projects like Jookt and ADPay, an online advertising venture.
Myhren admits that while it’s been thrilling to be part of the cable industry over the decades, he feels that consolidation has taken some of the entrepreneurial fun out of it.
“There are extraordinary challenges today just as there were then, but on a day-to-day basis, I would say employees had more impact on what happened and it was easier to be an entrepreneur in the cable industry,” he said. “It’s not easy to be an entrepreneur on either the programming or operating side of the business today.”
DAVID VAN VALKENBURG
THEN: After graduating with a master’s of science in radiation biophysics from the University of Kansas in 1966 and entering the doctoral program at the University of Pittsburgh, David Van Valkenburg decided that science wasn’t for him. So he enrolled at Harvard, graduating with an MBA in finance in 1969.
Looking for a new career opportunity in the early 1970s, he created a checklist of things he wanted of the next company he worked for. His preferences included a smaller firm (with less than $100 million in annual revenues) where he was in contact with customers, in an industry with technological and international opportunities.
Aside from the international component, American Television & Communications fit all those criteria. Van Valkenburg worked for ATC in 1973. He went on to become the president of MultiVision Cable TV, Cablevision Industries, Paragon Communications and Cox Cable Communications. He was an executive vice president at MediaOne Group and before that, served as CEO and chief operating officer of Telewest PLC.
NOW: Van Valkenburg is chairman of corporate consultancy Balfour Associates, which was formed in 2000.
He also serves on several boards, including Harmonic; MBSI, a wireless PDA company; and Moscow Cablecom, a U.S. entity that provides cable service in Russia. He is also a board member of Ziff Davis, Blue Highways and Melaluca, which offers such natural products as vitamins and personal aids.
Van Valkenburg may not be actively involved in cable operations these days, but he stays connected to the industry. He sits on The Cable Center’s board of directors and is on its Hall of Fame Honorary Committee.
“I stay in touch with and am very close to a lot of people in the cable industry,” he said. “The cable industry continues to be more nimble than other large telecommunications companies, and even though [cable executives] can’t be as entrepreneurial as they once were, that entrepreneurial spirit is in their blood.”