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Cable Operators

Jerry Kent: No Longer Screams

5/21/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

Jerry Kent has a simple recipe for leadership
success: Hire the right people.

A 30-year veteran of the cable industry, Kent, chairman
and CEO of Suddenlink Communications, has been a part
of three successful cable ventures during that span — Cencom
Cable Associates, Charter Communications and Suddenlink
— and ran two of them (Charter and Suddenlink).
Along the way, Kent has built a reputation as a savvy businessman,
a loyal boss and an executive that has cultivated a
culture of integrity, fair-mindedness and employee recognition
at every company he led.

So it is no surprise that Kent has been honored with the
2012 Vanguard Award for Distinguished Leadership.

For Kent, being a leader means not only surrounding yourself
with a strong team, but recognizing and rewarding them
for their efforts, providing the tools and a path to advance
their careers and creating a favorable work environment.

“I have 6,000 employees,” Kent said. “Leadership to me
is getting up every morning and worrying about all 6,000 of
them; being sure we put them in a position to succeed, and
knowing that the decisions I make have an impact on those
6,000 people and their families.”

RECIPROCAL LOYALTY

Loyalty also is important to Kent, a favor that many of his
managers have returned over the years. Nearly two thirds
(15 of 24) members of Suddenlink’s senior management team
(at senior vice president and above) have worked with Kent
for about a decade or more. Of those 15, all except one have
worked with Kent at two or more companies; a third have
worked with him for 17 to 20 years; and two — Howard Wood
and Ralph Kelly — have worked with him for about 30 years.

“Jerry’s strategic vision, steadfast leadership, high expectations,
financial genius, integrity and customer focus are what
make him an extraordinary leader,” said Suddenlink chief
financial officer Mary Meduski, who has worked with Kent
since 2003. “At the same time, Jerry’s passion for and dedication
to his family, employees, customers, investors, community
and industry inspire respect, confi dence, loyalty and
admiration.”

Integrity, according to long-time business partner Ralph
Kelly, Suddenlink’s senior vice president and treasurer, has
been a key to Kent’s success over the years. “People take him
at his word, cemented by a handshake,” Kelly said. “There are
few individuals I’ve encountered or witnessed that command
that level of trust in business situations.”

Former Insight Communications CEO and long-time
friend Michael Willner said that what separates Kent apart
from other CEOs is his willingness to go the extra mile.

“He has a following of people who would step in front of a
freight train for him. To me that is a real sign of the personal
leadership qualities that Jerry has, which are among the best
of anybody I’ve ever met. The Vanguard is more than that,”
Willner said. “Jerry has completely involved himself in industry
efforts in ways that few other people do.”

Kent has been an outspoken advocate for retransmissionconsent
reform and a critic of rising sports-programming
costs, among other issues.

And because of those efforts, other industry leaders in
large and small companies alike, take notice when Kent has
something to say.

“I have seen him over the many, many years that he has
been in and out of the cable business make the transition into
becoming a true industry leader with a voice that is far greater
than a company of his size would normally have afforded
him,” Willner said.

One of Kent’s early mentors — Howard Wood, the man
who hired him at accounting giant Arthur Andersen fresh
out of grad school in 1979 — said Kent’s talents were evident
early on.

“He is one of those guys that can assimilate and manage a
tremendous amount of detail,” Wood said. “That makes him a
very strong leader because he always knows what the facts are.”

Wood, Kent and another Andersen exec, Barry Babcock,
dipped their toes into the cable industry in 1983, forming
Cencom Cable Associates with Bob Brooks. Kent was 27
years old, rising to chief financial officer before Cencom
was sold to Hallmark Cards in 1991. Two years later, after
Hallmark lost its appetite for cable, Wood, Kent and Babcock
bought most of those systems back, forming Charter
Communications in 1993.

REFORMED YELLER

It was at Charter that Kent got his first taste of running
the show, and he admits that in the early going he was a
bit impatient.

“I was a yeller and a screamer,” Kent said. “I don’t do that
anymore. Back then, it was much more of a cowboy entrepreneurial
environment. That meant being more aggressive,
pushing people harder and charting a new course.”

That combination of drive, talented management and a
motivated workforce helped create success at every company
Kent has headed. While at Charter — he stayed on as
CEO after it was sold to Paul Allen in 1998 — he oversaw
what was then the third-largest initial public offering in history.
After he left Charter in 2001, he formed Cequel III with
Wood and attorney Dan Bergstein, investing in communications
towers and cable. After building the tower company
— AAT Communications — into the largest privately owned
company in the tower industry, it was sold to SBA Communications
in 2006 for a tidy profit. The cable operations grew
into Suddenlink, now the seventh largest MSO in the country
with 1.2 million customers.

Kent says that today he has mellowed with age. And he
credits Wood with showing him the importance of easing
up on the accelerator a bit.

According to Wood, Kent already had all the tools of a
great manager.

“He is very good at the operations side,” Wood said. “I
may have been able to teach him a bit about the people side
of the business. The only thing that I’ve ever been responsible
for is to have him understand that not everybody has to
be like you to be effective. If you take care of the people that
work for you, they’ll take care of you.”

 

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