The 'Steely-Eyed’ Innovator10/14/2005 8:00 PM Eastern
It was a conversation across a clothesline in a Denver apartment complex in the mid 1960s that led Glenn Jones into cable. Jones was a law school student when he had his fateful encounter with Carl Williams, a partner in cable brokerage firm Daniels & Associates.
At the time, Jones had only brief contact with the industry through his own business representing a few cable companies in their acquisition efforts. “I was swapping services for rent, and my corporate office was a donut shop,” Jones says. “Carl and I became instant friends, and I started doing deals, which eventually led me to the cable business, which was very character-rich. All of us were catching a very special wave.”
The wave reached shore for Jones in 1967, when he borrowed $400 against his Volkswagen to purchase his first cable system, in nearby Georgetown, Colo. That purchase provided the cornerstone for Jones Intercable, a major MSO eventually acquired by Comcast Corp.
While Jones says cable was always “a lot of fun,” his ultimate joy was advancing education via television. In 1987, he founded Mind Extension University. And in 1995, he birthed Jones International University, which exists completely in cyberspace and was the first online university to receive accreditation.
“He saw the cable platform having the capability to allow people to learn,” says Decker Anstrom, president and chief operating officer of Landmark Communications Inc. “Through his companies and personally, he has shown how cable can expand the reach of education in profound ways.”
Anstrom also notes Jones’s “major role” in turning the industry around during a difficult period. “The 1992 Cable Act really affected us. Companies were selling, and cash flow was down. Glenn was absolutely steely-eyed and hit on two points. First, we have to break out of the old cable mold; and second, we have nothing to fear from the telcos. We listened, and that became a defining moment in our industry.”
Not only did Jones end up facing off against telcos, he built a world class system in Alexandria, Va., to compete with them. Anstrom says: “Bell Atlantic had pronounced it would bury the cable industry, and Glenn built his Alexandria system faster and better to beat Bell Atlantic. And he did.”
He also created cable’s limited partnership, a crucial financial vehicle that allowed the industry to attract a wide range of investors in an operator environment with little or no capital and high interest rates.
“He was a genius at limited partnerships and explaining how they worked from a cash-flow perspective. It was a real foundation for the industry,” says Frank Drendel, chairman and CEO of Comm-Scope Inc., a manufacturer of broadband products.
For Jones, it has always been about the people. “There are so many people and defining moments, like meeting (Comcast chairman) Ralph Roberts, whom I ended up dealing with many times. The industry was filled with entrepreneurial spirit, aggressiveness and characters. But the most defining moment of all was being born in America. Nowhere else could we have done this.”