Tom Rutledge, Chief Operating Officer, Cablevision Systems Corporation
Tom Rutledge's HOF Speech
Tom Rutledge literally learned the cable business from the ground up. In his nearly 35 years in the cable industry, Cablevision's chief operating officer has overseen nearly every area in the industry. As COO, he oversees cable operations: systems, customer service, billing. But he's also neck-deep in Cablevision's new technology, including Network DVR, iPad apps and TV Everywhere initiatives. He was instrumental in rolling out Cablevision's Triple Play offering of video, voice and Internet. He knows the regulatory environment as well as his lobbyists. And he oversaw Cablevision's family of Rainbow networks until July, when the group was spun off into a public offering. But above all, he says, he enjoys managing the many people who accomplish all of this every day.
"The thing that gives me the most joy in this business is working with people and managing large groups," Rutledge says. "I find a lot of pleasure in watching people grow and improve their skills. The business has changed dramatically, but no matter where I go, the people involved in this business have progressed even more than the technology."
Rutledge got his official start in the cable industry in 1977, after winning a spot in American Television and Communications' (ATC) management trainee program. Prior to that, Rutledge had worked for ATC digging ditches, laying cable and building systems. From that he learned exactly how cable systems worked, a foundation that he's drawn on constantly as his career progressed.
"I like doing everything there is for a business to make that business go," says Rutledge. "That involves the orchestration of technology, customer-service operations and regulations. Those are the things I do best."
After completing ATC's management program, Rutledge moved all over the country running cable systems in eight different markets, including stints as president of the company's Austin, Texas, and Portland, Maine, divisions.
"Cable was such a decentralized business when it started," says Nick Davatzes, CEO Emeritus of A&E Networks and a friend of Rutledge and his wife, Karen. "A company would rotate your functions, so you learned a lot. You might have started out in technical operations, gone on to customer service or marketing, and then become general manager. You were basically president of a little business that had all of these functions. As you moved up, you just had more people working for you performing those functions. With Tom, though, it's pretty remarkable because he has experience on so many sides of the business. And he demonstrates enormous leadership qualities."
ATC morphed into Time Warner Cable (TWC) in 1989 after Time Inc. merged with Warner Communications. In 1999, Rutledge was named senior executive VP of Time Warner Cable. In 2001, he served a three-month term as president of Time Warner Cable.
As one of TWC's top executives, Rutledge oversaw the launch and development of TWC's digital services, including digital cable, high-speed Internet, switched and IP telephony services-and thus the Triple Play offering-as well as video-on-demand. It was a development that had been a long time coming.
"I still have the resume I wrote when I applied for my first job, and in it I talked about the future of television," says Rutledge. "Even then, we were already promising two-way interaction to our customers. I didn't envision the Internet or IP, but I definitely envisioned a high-capacity cable network with lots of consumer choice."
In January 2002, Rutledge moved over to Cablevision as president of cable and communications, running telecommunications and cable operations. In 2004, Rutledge was named Cablevision's chief operating officer, the position he holds today, adding Rainbow Media Holdings to his purview, and overseeing AMC, IFC, WeTV, Sundance Channel and some local offerings.
Since then, AMC has broken out with such critically acclaimed original series as Mad Men, which just won its fourth Best Drama Emmy in September, as well as Emmy-winner Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and The Killing. Last March, Cablevision's board of directors voted to spin off Rainbow Media into a publicly traded company, renamed AMC Networks.
"Those networks have become extremely valuable and have a different profile than the cable-television business," says Rutledge. "Spinning them off created an opportunity for us to create shareholder value."
While the networks no longer report to him, he's involved in most of the rest of Cablevision's businesses. Optimum Networks includes Cablevision's consumer voice, video and data services, as well as Lightpath, Cablevision's all-Ethernet carrier-grade network for businesses.
"Cablevision has the highest penetration of data, video and voice of any telecommunications company operating in the country," says Rutledge. "Our revenues have gone up dramatically, and it turns out that the cash flow we generate as a company is greater from Internet and voice than it is from cable television. The addition of the Triple Play has really transformed our company."
Rutledge also oversees Cablevision Media Sales and its advanced advertising products, as well as Clearview Cinemas and Cablevision's local media properties, which includes News 12 Networks, MSG Varsity and two daily newspapers, Newsday and amNew York.
"Tom understands all aspects of the industry, from operations to engineering to finance to government affairs and legal," says Bob Miron, retired chief executive of Bright House Networks. "That's the key to him-he's smart, he understands the cable industry and he's good with people."
"Tom Rutledge stands alone as one of the most innovative and accomplished leaders in the industry today," says Alan Gerry, chairman and CEO of Granite Associates LP. "I am proud to count him as my colleague and friend."
Over the past few years, Cablevision has been in a few high-profile scuffles over retransmission consent, fighting hard with Fox and ABC. Today, Cablevision is working with Congress and the FCC to craft new regulations that would govern retransmission consent negotiations with the intent of making them less disruptive. "The FCC needs to forbid tying, which is the practice of broadcasters not just selling you their main network but their other networks as well for one price," says Rutledge. "Those prices need to be made public so consumers and operators know what's being paid, and there should be no pricing discrimination between companies."
Looking forward, Rutledge is knee-deep in new technology, with Cablevision this year introducing a network-based digital video recorder and a TV-Everywhere-enabling iPad app. "Our customers can watch all our services on smart TVs, iPads, iTouches-any screen can be a television in a Cablevision house," says Rutledge, noting that all new subscribers receive an Apple iTouch with their subscription.
"Tom and I have literally grown up in the cable business together," says George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports. "He is a great leader who has made an indelible mark not only on the companies for which he's worked, but on the industry as a whole." --Paige Albiniak