Michael L. LaJoie, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Time Warner Cable Inc.
Michael L. LaJoie HOF Speech
As Time Warner Cable's executive VP and CTO, Mike LaJoie's work on virtually every important digital product the cable industry has launched since the mid-1990s would in itself easily qualify him for the B&C Hall of Fame.
"Mike has been a real innovator and the list of technologies he's been involved in is an important and lengthy one," ranging from early work on voiceover IP and VOD in the 1990s to current work on TV Everywhere applications that are transforming the way consumers access video, says Glenn Britt, chairman and CEO of the country's second-largest MSO.
Many outside the company who have worked with LaJoie in industry-wide organizations such as CableLabs and the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers agree. Tony Werner, executive VP and CTO at Comcast and 2010 inductee into the Hall of Fame, for example, calls LaJoie "an industry visionary and a great leader within Time Warner Cable."
But Britt and others are also quick to stress that what really sets LaJoie apart is a rare ability to understand the business implications of fast-changing and complex new technologies, skills that the cable industry will need to navigate an increasingly competitive landscape.
"Mike is not just a great technologist, he is well grounded in business and business concepts," notes Carl U.J. Rossetti, executive VP and president of Time Warner Cable Ventures. That practical approach began early in life. "For as long as I can remember, if it spins, whirs, clicks, beeps or buzzes I could take it apart and put it back together," quips LaJoie, who recalls getting in trouble once for taking apart his mother's favorite clock.
But in a tech world that is increasingly dominated by engineers with advanced degrees, LaJoie is a rare selftaught technologist, a trait that colleagues say has helped him bridge the gap between science and business.
LaJoie worked his way through college, repairing machines in manufacturing plants. But he didn't pursue science or technology as a major and after college became a stock and commodities broker in 1977.
When the first Apple computer came out, LaJoie became enthralled with the technology and started a small business selling computers, which snowballed into a larger interest in software and digital media.
By the mid-1980s, he was doing consulting work for Warner Communications, which merged with Time Inc. in 1990, and in 1994, Jolie joined the company full time as executive VP of the Time Warner Interactive Group.
Here, LaJoie and his team worked with the cable division developing a number of important applications for Time Warner's groundbreaking Orlando, Florida, trial of digital technologies in the mid-1990s.
The Full Service Network was portrayed at the time as something of a failure because its services were so costly to deploy. "When you're spending $20,000 a home, it obviously couldn't scale," says Mike Hayashi, executive VP, architecture, development and engineering at the company, who reports to LaJoie.
Hayashi and others say, however, that the technologies tested there would transform the multichannel world in the years to come. "The Full Service Network gave rise to products that have generated tens and tens of billions of dollars' worth of revenue," LaJoie notes.
In the ensuing years, LaJoie would also play a pioneering role in turning those cutting-edge technologies into profitable products, doing early work in voiceover IP and then heading up a small team at the MSO that launched VOD, notes Rossetti.
Those successful deployments also helped propel LaJoie up the ranks at Time Warner Cable, which he joined in 1996. He was promoted to VP of corporate development at the division in 1998 and then named executive VP of advanced technology in 2002.
In 2004, he took the top technology job he holds today.
LaJoie credits many of these accomplishments to the atmosphere of technical innovation that senior management encouraged, along with the skills of many of his colleagues. But others stress that LaJoie's passion for technology and ability to understand complex business issues also played a crucial role.
"Mike's technical accomplishments with VOD and PacketCable [for the delivery of phone services] are very, very significant," says Hayashi. "But I think the thing that stands out most is his ability to explain the nuances of rapidly changing technologies to the business side of the house and help them make the right decisions."
And while colleagues describe him as a warm person with a great sense of humor, they also highlight his determination in the practical application of technology.
"Mike is a giant steamroller; he is like a big yellow Caterpillar [monster truck] coming at you," jokes Rossetti. "When he's on a project, you don't want to be standing in front of him.
"And that is a good thing," Rossetti adds, because it has allowed him to implement some innovative but complex technologies. "Mike was responsible for not just the technology but the business side of rolling out VOD.... It was a huge effort he pretty much did by himself with a couple of other people who worked for him. In today's environment, you'd probably need 40 people to do all that."
Such traits will continue to be important for Time Warner Cable, which is aggressively rolling out TV Everywhere services that many analysts see as key to cable's future. "Mike is leading our efforts to give consumers access to any content, at any time, on any device, in any place they want it," Britt says.
Those traits have also helped him play a major role in industry-wide organizations over the years. At CableLabs, LaJoie wrote the first request for proposals for PacketCable technologies that operators now use to deliver phone services. He has also been a board member at SCTE since 2002, and played an important role in coming up with a plan to restructure that board so the organization could better serve the industry.
"Mike is assertive about getting things done and very open about discussing hard topics that need to be addressed," says Mark Dzuban, president of SCTE, who also notes that LaJoie is a member of the organization's strategic planning committee. "He speaks his mind and is not willing to sweep things under the rug, but he [works] in a constructive, collaborative way" that has strengthened the organization.
As thanks for those efforts, Dzuban gave LaJoie one of the American Civil War cannonballs he collects. "I give them to friends as a memento for breaking through tough walls and taking on tough challenges," Dzuban notes. And that's as good a comment as any to sum up Mike LaJoie's Hall of Fame career. -- George Winslow